Independent candidates are set to take on representatives of the three major political groups in Georgetown’s Constituency One at the November 12 local government elections.
In the battle for the first- past-the post seat are businessmen Jai Narine Singh, better known as Don Singh, Shazam Isfehani, Insurance Manager, Natoya Gibson, Ubraj Narine and salesman Malcolm De Freitas.
Constituency one encompasses Kings-ton East and West, Thomas Lands, Non-Pariel Park, Cummingsburg, Alberttown and Queenstown.
Singh who is known to the citizenry as a member of the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) said he seized the opportunity this time around because he wanted to serve his community. He noted that, he wanted to be a part of local government since 2016 elections but he submitted his symbol too late resulting in him being unqualified to contest the elections.
The past two years, he explained, allowed him to uncover “corrupt practices in city hall and the party directives that condone it.” With this revelation, he pointed out he was motivated to throw his hat in the ring and contest for his constituency’s seat.
“I firmly believe that it’s time that a real change is made in the way we do things and I thought to myself, if not me, who then? My campaign slogan is “Let’s start something.” By that, I mean something different from the ways we have been doing things. I’m determined that if elected, I will make that difference,” he announced.
Touching on his input into effective management of city hall, Singh said he would submit a motion, if elected for a committee to be set up to review the Municipal and District Councils Act.
“We are still running our ever growing capital on the laws set forth by chapter 28.01 which was written decades ago. I would submit a motion that a committee be set up to review these laws with an eye to our present and future expansion. Procurement practices have been nonexistent at city hall… apart from the parking meter scam there is nepotism and rampant corruption in the awarding of contracts for work to be done,” Singh said, while pointing out that these are some areas he will look to address if granted the opportunity to sit around the horseshoe table.
In addition, he noted that from sitting at intervals in the visitors’ gallery he has observed councillors operating at the “behest of the party and not the residents of our fair city.” He believes as an independent candidate he will be able to push for citizens’ interest to be addressed as he will not be influenced by a party.
The businessman further stated that he will like to see the council adopt a new habit of offering service at ease to the citizenry. “In 2018 we still have to join long lines to pay our taxes. Taxpayers should be able to view their indebtedness online and make payments the same way,” he said, while suggesting alternative payment methods such as “mobile money and banks can also be asked to come on board to facilitate payments” to curb long lines.
Asked what issues he will like to address in his constituency, Singh responded there are serious ones such as a mixture of residential and business properties in the constituency that needs to be straightened out. While, there are a few ways to address this problem, Singh said it will take a collective effort.
He also pointed out that like every other constituency, issues of garbage collection, flooding, drainage and clearing of alleyways and trenches remain urgent.
“There are a few projects that I would seek to have implemented, should I be elected councillor. I’m working on a proposal to approach businesses in the community to adopt blocks which they would be responsible for the upkeep of, I would sit with the treasurer of the city and work out a system of tax credits for the businesses who come on board with this project. For example, if you spend $100 to maintain and care for your adopted block, a $20 credit would be given on your overall taxes. This would also ease the burden on the city, at least in my constituency. Secondly, I would seek to have the playgrounds and parks within constituency 1 refurbished and reconstituted with the aim of encouraging more community involvement and interaction, of course the city constabulary and the Guyana Police Force would be asked to protect and serve especially after dark,” Singh said.
Singh also proposed that the council engage in a compost and recycling project. He noted that if weeded grass is purchased the city can start up a compost venture and then retail it as fertilizer. He also suggested the city use the compost facility for a recycling plant for plastic bottles. With this project he believes that the council can earn revenue and at the same time help to keep the environment clean. In addition, he proposed that the city lobby for a percentage of the environmental tax which can help the council set up the facilities for composting and recycling.
Returning for a second time in a bid to secure a seat at council, is Malcolm de Freitas, who is known to theatre goers and is a resident of Alberttown.
In an interview with Stabroek News, de Freitas said he believes his luck can change in this year’s election as persons have observed the poor performance of the council.
“I have gained some trust because of the failures we have seen at city hall from the current administration and the last administration. When I made my contributions to the Guyanese Constitution Reform, my position was local government should be dealt with by persons from non- parliamentary parties. This creates a confusion in the dynamics of national regional and local government and so I am contesting again,” de Freitas said.
He noted that should he get into council he will look to address right-sizing city hall’s administration to generate effective use of city hall resources, improved communication between the council and citizens and rebuilding trust in the constituency.
“Too much persons are unsatisfied with the council performance, if they were giving effective service they would not have been cash-strapped. The perception of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness and other negative effects that have (occurred) have created an antagonistic support,” said the aspiring councillor.
He noted that such issues can be addressed easily through acknowledgements of complaints and requests.
“Citizens must know the services they are asking for and they require are being looked at and addressed. There should be acknowledgement of letters of complaints or permission for housing etc. If there is awareness of the process being started and you are not ignored …when it comes for a resolution citizens will be able to say the council is working… The citizens must feel and know their interest is being served but there is that lack of feeling,” he added.
de Freitas also pointed out that he will look to address outsourcing which he believes is taking too much of the council’s revenue leaving them in a financial dilemma. “I think they have outsourced too much of the service they have been capable of doing and this is now putting a strain on the back of the council finances…” he stressed.
If elected, the first thing he plans to address in his constituency is flooding in Queens Street and Lance Gibbs in Queenstown and in Alberttown, Light Street between fourth and fifth. He noted that the identified areas are always flooded whenever it rains. In his opinion the issue is simple but requires an engineer’s advice on how to solve the issue.
He said from campaigning, residents in Kingston have requested the establishment of an open space for recreational purposes and it is a project he will like to see undertaken.
De Freitas noted that he wishes to be an office bearer with a difference, one who is approachable in the streets. “I will listen to every suggestion my constituents bring to me because I feel persons who live close to the problem sometimes have an idea on how to resolve the problem. We have had too much office holders who stay in office instead of walking and getting to understand what the issues that need to be resolved are. I walk all the time, people can see me and be able to stop me and when I go into council it must be the same.”
Known to residents of Alberttown as the “IT Girl,” AFC’s candidate Natoya Gibson said being involved in the Local Government elections gives her the opportunity to contribute to youth development, foster changes in her community and offer ideas that will aid with effective management of city hall.
“I will be able to put focus on youths and offer mentorship and development. Also encourage youths to be more social in this technological age,” Gibson said in an interview with Stabroek News.
Her vision for the constituency she said is to have a constituency, moreso a city where residents can live “in a clean, fresh and breathable environment.”
And to achieve this, she said if elected she will look to improve the drainage issues in the community through partnerships with the Mayor and City Council and citizens. She, like other constituency candidates pointed out that flooding has been an issue in the Alberttown area when it rains.
She believes with the support of the M&CC, she can be able to organize residents to get themselves involved in a “day of cleaning activities.”
“We don’t have to wait for the council to come and do it but if they give their support we as residents can come out and clean our surroundings. Everyone can come out and help clean their environs and neighbourhood,” she pointed out, while sharing her opinion that the simple community partnerships can make a difference.
While campaigning in the fields, she noted many residents expressed concern about improper drainage and it is an issue they will like to see rectified.
Gibson, who is a Unit Manager at Guyana Trinidad Mutual Fire and Life Insurance said she will also work to see floodlights installed at Burnham Court and the Football court, two recreational facilities in the community. In addition to this she said she will also like to see more street lights and names of street signs mounted in the constituency.
Lionel Jaikaran, former Deputy Mayor who contested on the APNU+AFC coalition slate represents this constituency on the current council. However, some residents have said that he failed to deliver on the promises he made during the 2016 campaign.
In a follow up interview with Jaikarran in 2017, he had said that based on the city’s financial status he was unable to execute projects he had in mind.
Stabroek News made contact with Shazam Isfehani, the People Progressive Party/Civic candidate and APNU Candidate Ubraj Narine and both indicated they were not available for an interview.