Once again the question of zoning and accountability dominated a community engagement between residents of Georgetown’s Constituency Two and those who hope to represent them at City Hall.
Three of the five candidates contesting the First Past the Post election in Constituency 2 (Kitty North, Central and South and Subryanville) showed up at the Diocesan Youth Centre, in Subryanville ready to plead their case to residents.
Shondel Hope of APNU, Arnold Sukhraj of the AFC and Independent Candidate Fay Clarke all told residents that if elected they will work to improve drainage, better manage green spaces and involve the community in every stage of its own development.
The PPP/C Candidate Nalissa Ferguson though invited chose not to be present. A similar event organized in 2016 was also snubbed by then PPP/C candidate Patricia Ferguson.
Present in 2016 were Independent candidate Albert ‘Bulldog’ Cromwell, Carlyle Goring, candidate for APNU+AFC, herbalist Alfred Park, of the Healing the Nation Theocracy Party, and Jameel Rasul of Team Benschop for Mayor.
Goring went on to win the seat and preside over a period of contention between City Hall and Subryanville.
Over the last two years Subryanville residents have clashed with the city over increased commercial activity in their residential area and the “leasing” of Farnum Ground to the Mae’s School.
Also absent yesterday was Independent candidate Yenchandra Rambarran. Organizer Aisha Fraites explained to Stabroek News that she did not know of his candidacy so he was not invited.
She apologized to the approximately 20 resident present for the oversight before inviting those present to introduce themselves and their plans.
Clarke was keen to set herself apart from the party candidates by noting that as someone who has been involved in voluntary work and ministry for nearly two decades she is not looking to City Hall to make a name for herself.
She explained that after decades in aviation management she answered the call to serve and entered a seminary to study theology. Following her studies she worked for 17 years as chaplain and head of Training and Welfare initiatives with the Guyana Prison Service. The first five of these years were completely voluntary.
For her work in rehabilitative services, Clarke was awarded a Medal of Service in 2010.
According to the minister the community must collaborate for its own development and stop thinking that City Hall or central government has to do everything.
“We have to think how to do this… we must network and bring solutions. Change is not just infrastructure it must also be humanitarian,” she stressed, charging residents with “reigniting a culture of involvement.”
“Currently there is a culture of indifference, apathy, hopelessness that is contributing to suicide and violence,” Clarke noted adding that as someone with a proven track record she can work with the community to access international funding to improve infrastructure.
First 60 days
Hope, who came prepared with brochures complete with a “first 60 days” plan focused on more tangible areas of concern.
She told residents that her intention is to collaborate with organizations and groups to improve drainage, lighting and other areas of security.
Hope drew attention to the fact that several persons have been robbed when walking or jogging in the community and said she had already approached the police to address the issue.
“Whether we look at community policing groups or whether we ask for intensified patrols from the police is still to be decided,” she explained.
Confident that she will soon hold the post of councilor, Hope stressed that she will immediately after winning hold a “thank you” meeting with the constituency where a constituency committee will be formed with representatives from each of the four communities which make up the constituency.
This committee, she explained, will work to develop a development plan for the constituency and support the councillor as she advocates for funds to increase recreational facilities for youths and improve drainage.
She stressed that as councillor she would return to the community each quarter to present updates on what has been achieved or still needs to be done.
In contrast, the AFC’s Sukhraj appeared unsure of the methods he would use to achieve the goals he had outlined.
He stressed that City Hall cannot do everything and maintained that he has already approached the Ministers of Public Infrastructure and Public Telecommunications about establishing an ICT Hub in Kitty and improving the drainage infrastructure in the constituency.
Residents were however not impressed with the promises made. One frustrated resident noted that while all the talk of working together sounds nice, councillors have been known to disappear after an election.
“All this talking about coming together and what’s not but what the community needs is a councillor who is involved. How do you plan to give and receive feedback…the Community needs this feedback,” she said noting that only Hope had made promises of returning once elected.
In responding, Sukhraj said that his intention is to hold monthly “town hall meetings” at the Kitty Market while Clarke in turn said that reporting mechanisms are part and parcel of the type of programmes she wishes to institute.
At this point the meeting turned mildly contentious with disillusioned residents demanding that candidates explain how they would make sure City Hall spent the rates paid on community development.
One resident incensed at the questions claimed that the forum was a “set of stupidness”. According to the elderly man the candidates can’t promise anything because City Hall has no money.
“Where they getting the money from? Is a set of stupidness. Pay the rates and shut you mouth. Just vote for one of them and hope for the best. You could get all the promises you want but she don’t know what she gonna reach dey,” he argued before walking out of the forum.
On the heels of his departure Hope stressed that rates currently collected are not enough for the works needed in the communities, noting that several residential properties were engaged in commercial activities while still paying residential rates.
“We are paying in some cases $1000 a month in Georgetown…we are not paying anything really. We need to look at rates holistically to give City Hall the funding it needs to address our concerns,” she explained.
Sukhraj further noted that even as the issue of rates is addressed City Hall clearly needs better and more accountable managers.
“Only then can monies be diverted to communities,” he stressed.
In the end most residents left still undecided.
“Before I came I didn’t know if I was voting and I still don’t know,” one resident explained. Another resident noted that the candidates were not as prepared as they could have been.
“I felt like they were providing stock answers rather than dealing with the specific questions asked,” she noted while another resident, Melissa explained that she would be voting but no candidate had yet won her vote.
Meanwhile the organizer, Fraites said that she felt the event was worth it even if only to introduce the candidates to residents.