When the city saw the inimitable Ms Carol Sooba off the scene following a change at the central government level, and local government elections brought in their wake the installation of a new council and Mayor, the citizens of Georgetown heaved a collective sigh of relief. A greater degree of rationality, it was believed, would now prevail. As it transpired, this expectation turned out to be somewhat premature. First there was the parking meter debacle – which still has not run its course – and then, among a number of other issues, yet another garbage crisis threatened to engulf our benighted capital.
After the APNU+AFC government came to office in 2015, a systematic clean-up campaign was embarked upon, which for the first time in many years allowed residents to indulge the hope that the city might return permanently to an earlier (relatively) pristine state. But that, of course, was to reckon without the M&CC which thereafter had assumed responsibility for maintenance. Gradual-ly the refuse crept back, and then a familiar garbage impasse inserted itself into the story, after Georgetown’s two largest private garbage contractors withdrew their services for non-payment.
City Hall’s ad interim arrangements after the disengagement proved beyond all shadow of a doubt that it was not capable of removing the capital’s rubbish with any degree of efficiency in the absence of the services of Cevon’s and Puran Bros. Fortunately for the inhabitants central government recognized this too, and five weeks before Christmas, the Ministry of Communities paid off the accumulated debt to the two firms, and contracted them to work to the end of 2017.
But time marches on, and January 1st, 2018 arrived, and saw us return to the status quo ante. And just why, as one correspondent to this newspaper pointed out, did the municipal authorities not take advantage of the government-funded grace period to put arrangements in place to continue with garbage disposal in residential areas from January onwards, so there would be a seamless transition? That question, inevitably, will never be answered, but one week into the New Year it seems City Hall had a light-bulb moment: residents must now pay for the collection of their garbage.
It must be said that as we reported in our edition yesterday, city businesses are already paying monthly fees for the collection of commercial and industrial waste. There are three classifications: small, medium and large, which attract monthly fees of $5,000, $8000 and $12,000 respectively. It would appear, therefore, that the municipality is just extending the principle.
What will take householders aback is the fact that at a press conference on Friday Town Clerk Royston King told the media that this new measure would be implemented on February 1st. This is despite the fact that the details clearly have not been worked out as yet. Even the amount to be paid seems to be unclear, although the sum of $200 a barrel is what is being bandied about at present.
The sprawling suburbs are not the central business district, so what mechanism will the council be putting in place so that payments can be made? Are these to be paid weekly, monthly or quarterly? And are they to be paid in advance? And if someone does not pay, how will they be identified, and furthermore, if they are, what will be the consequence of such dereliction? Would it mean that their refuse would not be collected? If so, how would the contractors know whose account was in the black and whose in the red? For obvious reasons none of this is practicable, and if it were to be implemented Georgetown would be dirtier than ever.
In the absence of any information to the contrary, therefore, one can only assume that the intention is either to incorporate the garbage rates into the general rates, or at least pay them at the same time, and that the consequence for not paying is the same as not paying the rates and taxes. Judging by the effectiveness with which the city council collects the latter, one can assume that a large number of people will get their garbage cleared for free, just as they have always done, and that for most of them this will attract no sanctions.
Of course, many people do not own the properties in which they live, and one is presuming, therefore, that like the general rates and taxes, the garbage rates will be payable by the property owner, although he or she will probably add them to the rent. As such, inevitably rents will go up.
There is a further problem which the M&CC may not be taking into consideration. While it is possible to categorise businesses as small, medium and large and charge accordingly, that cannot be done with private residences, where obviously a flat rate will be applied, whether the household consists of one person, or a family of fifteen. The problem comes in the case of the very poor and pensioners, for whom even $100 represents a burdensome challenge, and $200 is impossible. The latter sum per barrel might represent $800 per month, or in a five-week month even $1000. There are many people living in this city – and not just pensioners – who simply cannot afford to pay for garbage clearance. Are the municipal authorities going to entertain waivers for those in difficult circumstances, and if they are, how would these be applied if the person was in rented accommodation?
And what about charitable organizations which depend for their survival on donations, like children’s homes or old people’s homes, to give but two examples? They have difficulty as things are finding funds for maintaining their buildings and services, and to add a garbage barrel charge onto their expenses would surely affect the material quality of what they can offer their residents. Will City Hall give them a waiver?
Finally, we have been told that government is going to embark on a valuation exercise throughout the country this year, which will eventuate in increased local taxes. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the garbage rates are implemented, can citizens be assured that when the new rates and taxes come into force some time in the uncertain future, we will then be relieved of paying the rubbish removal rates?