Local power syndrome

The phenomenon of power syndrome is somewhat puzzling, but it is too common a complaint to be denied. It is not confined to national politicians; it can afflict anyone who exercises even a modicum of authority over others, although admittedly, it is most associated with those who govern us. And ‘those who govern us’ encompasses not just the ministers and their associates who deal with the grand sweep of events, but also the councillors and their bureaucracies at the local government level. In fact, they are so much closer to the ordinary citizen than the central government politicians, and their decisions affect everyday life so much more immediately than do ministerial policy pronouncements – think garbage, drainage, potholes, etc, etc – that any aberrations in terms of their behaviour come to notice very quickly.
And so it is with members of the Mayor & City Council, currently locked in battle with segments of the citizenry, with the Minister of Communities, and, possibly, with central government itself. If we are to return to the parking meter contract – albeit amended – as it seems we might, the Mayor of this capital and some of her cohorts will be locked in battle again, this time with a substantial number of the capital’s residents and workers. One should add that it is not just the elected councillors of the city who are at odds with the voters who put them into office, but also their chief local bureaucrat, the eternally combative Town Clerk, supported perhaps by a few other City Council heads of department.
There was a general sense of relief when the local government elections were held in 2016, and a brand new council was voted in. After the treatment meted out to Georgetown by the PPP/C from 1994 onwards, the electorate made sure that save for two seats, members of that party were excluded from a place around the horseshoe table. There was a great sense of expectation, therefore, that after so many years residents were going to get a cleaner, better drained, more orderly and better functioning city.
At the outset we did, in fact, get a cleaner city, and even now Georgetown, while far from as unsullied as it was following that first major rehabilitation, is not as grubby as it was in the PPP/C days. But that first assault on the state of the capital was largely accomplished courtesy of central government, whose assistance has also made possible the avoidance of the garbage crises which so afflicted us under the last government.
In other respects, however, the performance of the council has been a notable disappointment. Aside from Mayor Patricia Chase-Green herself and a few prominent councillors who perhaps could even be described as a clique of sorts, and who first gained prominence over the parking meter fiasco, the figure most often in the forefront of the M&CC is Town Clerk Royston King, whose outstanding characteristic is an autocratic aura. A few regular critics on the council aside, this group appears to outsiders to dominate proceedings.
The Town Clerk and Mayor – especially the first – are oblivious to what the citizens want or what their purpose at City Hall is. Certainly forget democracy and inclusiveness where the City Council is concerned. In a letter to this newspaper published yesterday, Councillor Kuppen wrote that the council is considering foreign trips this year for the Mayor and others to a Sister Cities Project in China, participation in Dragon Boat Racing in China, attending the 21st Century Maritime Committee Meeting along with her “Team”, and attending the Caribbean Conference of Mayors in Kingston, Jamaica. While he did not make clear whether the Chinese projects all were part of the same trip, it was still not indicated who was paying for any of it. Certainly if the Georgetown ratepayers are expected to foot the bill for even a portion, one would have to conclude that given the city’s impecunious circumstances Ms Chase-Green has lost all sense of direction.
What is currently offending the citizenry is the matter of the Bel Air community land which the Town Clerk, Mayor, City Engineer and Medical Officer of Health intended to convert to residential house lots for themselves. The M&CC, Town Clerk, and Central Housing and Planning Authority were taken to court by a resident of the area, who won the case recently. One can only remark that while the present local government officials seek Pradoville-style residences, the most Ms Carol Sooba aspired to was a new sofa for her office – which is not to suggest that that was justified either. It is, however, on an entirely different scale from houses. Of course, the Town Clerk has appealed the ruling, and has doggedly insisted that he has the right to do this unilaterally under the Municipal and District Councils Act, and does not have to take the matter to the council first for a decision.
While this appears to the layperson to be an unlikely reading of the act, it does once again illustrate Mr King’s dislike of democratic procedures, something which was on display too when he announced a $200 per barrel charge for garbage removal. As is his wont, there was no explanation as to how this would be accomplished, even should it be approved in principle. It was the Mayor, more sensitive to the trend of opinion on this particular occasion, who asked him to conduct consultations with residents first. Thereafter, he would be obliged, no doubt, to take it to council whatever his disposition in that regard.
Aside from all the other muddle which is associated with the administration of Georgetown, we reported as recently as in our edition yesterday that there was no evidence of public tendering for works being undertaken at Le Repentir Cemetery at a cost of $100 million. Under the act referenced above, the city has to send contracts in excess of $250,000 to public tender, except in cases where “council contractors” have been publicly identified.
Residents are tired of how their city is being run and the continued illegalities after such great hopes were being entertained. And they are tired of the lack of inclusiveness, and the fact that their viewpoints are ignored. They are tired that some of them are written off as bourgeois by the highest echelons of the council for opposing something which can only be to the benefit of certain officials of that council. And they are tired of the fact that some on the council along with its officials appear so visionless, and exhibit the classic symptoms of power syndrome, being more concerned with themselves than the citizens.

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