Garbage disposal 

If it seems as though public comment on the protracted failure of the Georgetown Municipality to competently manage the affairs of the capital bears the resemblance of a witch hunt, that is only because successive municipal administrations have, in myriad ways, proven themselves not nearly up to the task of capably managing the affairs of the capital. People are, quite simply, fed up, and when this is balanced against the nexus between the effective and efficient management of the country’s capital and the broader implications of that for the development of the country as a whole, it would be altogether unreasonable to expect that the long-standing and decidedly impactful ineptitude of City Hall will continue to pass without pointed and poignant public comment.

It has not been alone the matter of the municipality’s inability to provide the requisite services to Georgetown and its citizens that has been the issue. It is, as well, the galling propensity of city officials to resort to excursions into bombast, adding to the injury of its ineptitude the insult of a vacuous and annoying arrogance.

When, late last year, the city’s two biggest private garbage collection contractors opted to down tools after a protracted and ultimately fruitless discourse on the matter of City Hall making good an outstanding debt in excess of three hundred million dollars, the municipality had the audacity to issue them with letters of termination citing breaches of contract as the reason. Then, it appeared not to occur to City Hall that their own humongous debt to the contractors was, in itself a blatant breach of contract and that even in the face of the contractors’ withdrawal of service the response of terminating their services was a wildly disproportionate response.

Mind you, there had been nothing in the earlier off/on discourses between the two sides that even remotely suggested that City Hall was either able or willing to pay its debt. Indeed, it was only after it became clear that the municipality was ‘negotiating’ with the contractors behind a barrier erected out of equal measures of bluster and bluff and that the stop-gap garbage collection measures put in place after the contractors had withdrawn their services were threatening to collapse into a further crisis that central government stepped in, first, to settle the outstanding debt and afterwards to foot the garbage collection bill up to December 31, 2017.

And one might have thought that City Hall would seize the breathing space afforded by government’s intervention to try to close a deal more acceptable to the two garbage collectors though the point should be made that by that time it had already incinerated its bridges with the contractors whose paymaster was now the Ministry of Public Works. That was the municipality’s first lost opportunity to try to mend fences with the garbage collectors. It neglected to do so, opting instead for taking refuge behind a paper thin wall comprising mostly of waffle about efforts to return to a garbage-disposal regime owned and operated by City Hall itself.

What City Hall has, over several years, either failed to comprehend or simply ignored is the overwhelming loss of confidence in its ability properly to provide the services which it should to the capital. It is that limitation, it seems, that caused it to fail to understand that its announcement about reintroducing a municipality-run garbage disposal service was treated by the citizenry as no more than the customary hot air, so that no one is surprised that it is now as clear as day that the city lacks both the inventory and the managerial capacity to manage urban garbage disposal and that the task of so doing, belongs, at least for the foreseeable future, with the private sector.

Long before the grace period afforded City Hall by central government’s bail out came to an end on December 31, and once its own stop-gap garbage disposal measures began to head in the direction of an urban health hazard, it ought, surely, to have occurred to City Hall that it needed to have a viable garbage-disposal regime in place that could smoothly kick in on January 1, 2018. In this regard there was never any question then that the municipality would have to find a way of rescinding the earlier termination letters issued to its two main garbage collectors if this was to be accomplished.

Here again, the city fluffed its lines spectacularly. This newspaper actually saw a letter dated Sunday December 31, 2017 the day on which the garbage disposal arrangement with government ended, from the Town Clerk seeking engagement with both contractors with a view to having them resume duties. It was as if nothing had gone before then. It was, it seemed, that City Hall had learnt nothing from the 300-odd million-dollar quandary from which central government had extricated. It had sat on its hands for a period in excess of a month, declining to re-engage with its two substantive garbage collectors. It has to be said, of course, that City Hall knows only too well that it offers by far the most lucrative garbage disposal ‘game’ in town and that it was unlikely to have too much difficulty in ransoming the contractors back to the bargaining table. That is the main reason why it did not use the month-long break it enjoyed from meeting the capital’s garbage collection bills to engage them in discourse that might lead to an enhanced arrangement for garbage collection.

There is, at the moment, an existing proposal from City Hall which it hopes will serve as a basis for a sounder engagement that had obtained previously. What is missing from the proposal is a City Hall undertaking on the predictability of payment to the garbage collection contractors. The position of the two contractors, is that they want to be paid on a month to month basis and that a binding agreement that excludes that understanding will be difficult. So that whilst we are told that there is a garbage collection regime in place again it is, it seems, one that is standing on somewhat shaky legs.

Now City Hall has executed another decidedly risky throw of the dice. It has convened a “public consultation” for Thursday of this week to discuss a residential charge of $200.00 per barrel of garbage collected after the fee has been imposed. What we have, going forward, it seems, is a discomfiting fait accompli, though City Hall appears to have no clear idea as to how its new residential fee will be collected. The whole sorry affair points to the likelihood that the prevailing on/off garbage crisis may be far from over.

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