Good local governance

The pesky parking meters are back in the news again, although they are really symptomatic of a more profound problem where the city council is concerned. As was to be expected given the appalling management of the city by the PPP/C prior to May 2015, APNU+AFC took control of the horseshoe table with a thundering majority following the election last year. It seems the electorate didn’t bother about voting for individuals; by and large they voted party, as a consequence of which some unsuitable councillors came to represent them, the most notorious of whom had been accused of child molestation. It was a bad sign that he was not pressured to resign at the outset.

Perhaps the city ratepayers should not have been too surprised, therefore, when the ‘new’ council, under the control of some old hands, began to display the arrogance and authoritarianism of a bygone era. They were acting not as individuals representing their constituencies, but as a monolithic body answerable to no one but themselves. In fact, the nonsense surrounding the parking meters was one of the earlier intimations of this. Having said that, it has to be acknowledged that the AFC councillors have distinguished themselves from those in APNU, and together with the one or two independent voices plus the PPP/C ones, have constituted the only local representatives in the capital who have offered citizens an alternative view. This notwithstanding, all in all, the current city council is not a reflection of how our new form of local government was supposed to be.

Since the issues would be local and not national, the original idea was to give residents of a given area a stake and a say in the decisions that were made and which affected them directly. Councillors were to interact and hold meetings with those who lived in their ward, listen to their concerns, take on board some of their suggestions, and genuinely represent them at statutory meetings of the council and the like, so that real change would be possible. As with central government, it all presumed accountability and transparency, innovation and inclusiveness. By implication too, it was intended to break the mould of the politico-ethnic system, although in the end the two fossilized parties were not quite ready to loosen their grip completely.

Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings, the reformed local government legislation was an undoubted improvement on what had preceded it, and opened up apertures in the local political fabric for possible new approaches. If the citizenry – or sections of it, at least – thought there were now opportunities for input into the governance of their areas, those who ruled in City Hall certainly did not share that view, including the Town Clerk.

So we have the absurdity of the parking meter contract, which was foisted on residents without so much as even a sham consultation in the first instance, and with which the council is still persisting despite the fact that the decision in a court case in relation to it still has not been handed down. To the ordinary layperson in the streets of Georgetown that seems fundamentally irrational. Just why, they wonder, is a small group at the apex of City Hall hanging on so desperately to this contract when its legality is still in question?

Apart from the Town Clerk’s periodic excursions into absolutism in relation to the vendors, among others, along with the various eccentric proposals he has made, there is the secrecy surrounding everything which is done. The transparency from their council to which Georgetowners are entitled is simply absent. No ordinary citizen has any idea of what exactly goes on in Fr Scoles’s magnificent, albeit decaying structure, until a decision virtually becomes a fait accompli.

While zoning and a whole slew of bylaws have fallen by the wayside over the years, there is no discussion at City Hall level about whether in the absence of a Town Plan, any of these bylaws will be enforced in the meantime, and if not, why not. Since residents in many areas expected a regularization of activities within the city limits with the new council, there is considerable dissatisfaction that this has not been done, and that the authorities, including the City Engineer’s Department proceed as if they were answerable to no one.

It may be that Mayor Chase-Green has in recent times had an inkling that those who make their homes in the capital are not altogether happy about how the city council has been proceeding, since after Mr Royston King blurted out that City Hall wanted to charge for garbage collection from February 1, she advised him to hold a public meeting on the subject. Exactly how it would work was a mystery, since he was proposing a high fee per barrel, although he never explained who would record how many barrels were cleared from a given house, or where and how the money would be paid.

If City Hall has not realized that times have changed, there is some activity to suggest that the citizenry has. The Movement Against Parking Meters was a dramatic awakening for the council and its officers, although there is scant evidence that they have absorbed the full significance of what has happened. Then there are the residents of various areas making their voices heard over aberrations taking place where they live, and there are the court cases which individual citizens have brought against the city council.

The latest of these relates to the Bel Air Park playground, which the M&CC and Mr King wanted to take over in order to build a town house for the Mayor, the Town Clerk, the City Engineer and the Medical Officer of Health. Aside from the fact that this land was never intended for housing, that the M&CC has never maintained it as it was bound to do, and that contradictorily Mr King is well known for his promotion of environmental matters, the idea that it was to be converted to a kind of local government Pradoville II struck citizens as outrageous. And these are the people who want us to pay for our garbage to be cleared; who want us to accept parking meters under a dubious contract; who go gallivanting on trips to Mayors’ meetings and the like; and who authorize various other expenditures which residents might wish to question.

What residents inadvertently voted into office was a group which for the most part is no more concerned about voters than the national politicians are, and who are interested in looking after themselves first, not their constituents.

Citizens want an orderly, clean city. They want those who govern the city to follow the rules, and, it might be added, the existing bylaws. They want transparency and accountability, so they know exactly what has been said and decided at meetings through the minutes being carefully recorded and signed off. They do not want hidden projects like the parking meters. They want regular audits. They want their voices to be heard and they want to be consulted on matters which affect them and for their opinions to be taken into account ‒ ie inclusiveness. They want efficient government, so the drainage system is maintained and the capital is cleaned regularly. In other words, they want good governance.

As they look around the horseshoe table, do they feel there is any hope of this?

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