Independent group gets credit for community improvements

-but disagreements to see return of two-party politics

Jimmaul Bagot

Beterverwagting /Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council

For many, the Beterverwagting/ Triumph Neighbourhood Demo­cratic Council (NDC) shows just what a functioning Local Government System can achieve but after two years of success as an independent council, current members of the NDC are choos­ing to contest the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) as members of the two major political parties.

On the streets of the NDC piles of garbage from two years ago are now replaced by bright blue bins which residents note are religiously emptied every Tuesday; once clogged canals are now clear and several potholed streets have been replaced by smooth asphalted surfaces. The services are by no means perfect as just as many streets retain a profusion of trenches masquerad­ing as potholes but everyone who spoke with this newspaper noted that they were happy for the progress they have seen.

Bibi Charles of Plantain Walk lamented her overgrown canal even as she praised the regular collection of garbage and waxed poetic about the Council’s will­ingness to give land to those fam­ilies which have been leasing for decades.

An overgrown canal in the Beterverwagting/Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council. Residents note that while the NDC has been clearing some canals others like this one remain clogged.

“I am most happy about that cause we here 22 years and the previous council wouldn’t sell at all but this council say they gone sell we the land,” she told Stabroek News. The council has explained that this project is in its earliest stages with valuations currently being conducted so that with approval by the Minister of Communities residents will be able to buy the lands at market rate.

Another resident who wished not to be named was just as happy about the garbage collec­tion and expressed gratitude for the Information Communication Technology (ICT) training ses­sions introduced by Councillor Jimmaul Bagot with help from several teachers living in the community.

The main success of the Beterverwagting/Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council according to both residents and councillors is its regular collection and disposal of garbage. FibreTech Industrial Plastics which is located in the community donated 500 of the blue bins seen in this picture to facilitate the proper collection and disposal of garbage.

Others were happy with the constant police patrols which they say has led to a severe decrease in petty crime in the community.

Councillors on the other hand were heartened by the increased revenue collection which they note has made it possible for the NDC to offer better service to the community. They were also full of praise for contributions from business such as FibreTech Industrial Plastics which had donated in excess of 500 bins to make garbage collection easier. All the blue bins prominently displayed had been donated by the community.

One of the bridges built by the Beterverwagting/Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council.

According to the Ministry of Communities, the BV/Triumph NDC has the capacity to collect $14 million in rates each year. In 2016 the NDC had collected 59% or $8.2 million of that sum, a marked increase from previous years. Councillors who spoke with Stabroek News further explained that they have since been able to significantly increase that sum for 2017.

“From just about 38% when we entered council’s revenue col­lection has risen to over 85%,” Councillor Neville Cumberbatch noted.

He credited outreach by Chairman Leyland Harcourt and constituency councillors with realizing this increase noting that the Chairman visited areas such as Plantain Walk which had not being paying rates and was able to solicit these rates by promising better services.

“They’ve paid their rates for the most part and we have given them bins and the tractor goes every Tuesday to collect,” Cumberbatch noted.

Stabroek News had previously reported that approximately 59% of all revenue collected by coun­cil goes to garbage collection but the Harcourt noted that council has since that time moved to take over most of the collection ser­vices by using a tractor belong­ing to the council and utlising the $4 million government subven­tion for 2018 to purchase a garbage compactor.

“We tendered for it and last month purchased the compactor using our subvention and a little bit of our own revenue,” Finance Chairman Bagot explained.

Opportunity

For Harcourt the newly acquired compactor represents not only an opportunity to cut the council’s expenditure but also a means of earning revenue.

“Right now most NDCs are using Cevon’s Waste Manage­ment but we believe that we can offer our sister councils a similar service at a cost which would benefit all of us and provide employment for a few in the BV/Triumph NDC,” Harcourt explained.

Much of the credit for the NDC’s success has been laid at Harcourt’s feet by both council­lors and residents.

According to Cumberbatch, Harcourt has been able to medi­ate at least six court cases which the council was party to.

“The council became party to the disputes because it is charged with maintaining property lines to allow for drainage and other things so when neighbours brought cases against each other for building fences over property lines or filling in drains the coun­cil was named. He walked around and was able to mediate a lot of these cases which have now been withdrawn,” Cumberbatch shared.

He has also, according to councillors, been able to con­vince several community busi­nesses to invest in the communi­ty.

One such investment can be seen in a profusion of small bridges which have been con­structed throughout the commu­nity. According to Harcourt, while the two larger bridges cost council 4 million and 2.3 million dollars respectively, these small­er bridges cost only labour.

“The businesses don’t really want people to know this but they provided the materials and we just provided labour without their help we couldn’t have done nearly as much,” he noted.

Harcourt is also reluctant to take credit for the repaired roads in the community.

“These roads is the Ministry repair them and honestly I think they were slated for repair since the last government so we can’t really take credit for that. We are working but half of the things you seeing happening is people stepping up to the plate not the council. We ain’t got that kind of money,” he chuckled.

Others feel that even if the council was not executing the projects themselves they were facilitating the process by not being obstructive.

Unique

“Our NDC is unique because we don’t have a political party in control. We are diverse; We don’t have yes men who do what their party tells them, we have coun­cillors acting on behalf of the community,” Bagot explained.

He used himself as an example noting that after winning his seat as an independent councillor he was elected Finance Chairman of the council and was able to fulfil both his campaign promises of rehabilitating Ogle Street and opening a resource centre.

“I went as an independent candidate and my voice was heard. I don’t think it would’ve been possible at any other coun­cil. We are a diverse council where every opinion matters. Our council was led by an inde­pendent group [the 8th of May Movement] and independent councillors made it successful”, Bagot stressed.

His opinion was reinforced by Cumberbatch who earned his seat as a PPP/C Councillor. He noted that while he will be returning to the ballot as part of the PPP/C, residents should look beyond parties for representa­tion.

“It’s ok to give your Propor­tional Representation vote to your party but make sure you think long and hard about your constituency councillor. Pick your party at the bottom of the ballot but when voting at the top remember it is that councillor who represents you at the NDC and to whom you will have to take your issues. Make sure they are approachable, reasonable and hard working. Don’t vote for somebody you can’t find after the elections,” he advised.

Cumberbatch who leads the council’s Sports Committee told Stabroek News he was most happy that over the last two years the council has been able to fence the playfield and install a lighting system. He is also happy that areas such as Dr. Miller Street which were prone to flooding have not had severe flooding since the abutting canals are being regularly cleaned.

Ironically though all those who spoke with this newspaper were happy that an independent group won control of their coun­cil that group has since fractured.

According to those who spoke with Stabroek News the 8th of May Movement fractured when members disagreed on how to invest the council’s resources.

“They were those who felt that a certain section of the NDC should be developed and others who felt that the resources should be spent on services which would help the entire community,” Cumberbatch explained.

Harcourt who led the move­ment is no longer a member and tells Stabroek News that while he would like to retire, Bagot and several other young members of the community have asked him to be part of the BV/ Triumph Action Force.

“I spent years asking young people to get involved in com­munity work and now they are asking me to stay. I don’t know how to tell them no,” he lament­ed.

Even more surprising is the fact that though the BV/ Triumph Action Force has registered a symbol so that they can contest in the upcoming Local Govern­ment Elections they have since agreed to subsume themselves to the ruling APNU+AFC coalition.

“We were still in negotiations when the deadline to register symbols came so I decided to safeguard the group but on nom­ination day I’ll be submitting names under the APNU+AFC coalition symbol,” Bagot explained.

Asked if he didn’t see this action as a contradiction of his experience with local govern­ment, Bagot said no.

“I won’t compromise my prin­ciples and the persons I’m work­ing with won’t either so I feel we can get not just similar but better results,” he stressed.

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