Town Clerk’s food safety licence lament

It appears that one of Town Clerk Royston King’s difficulties as Head of the Georgetown Municipality’s administration is his lack of understanding of how much the image of his administration depends on the goodwill of the citizenry, a circumstance that is decidedly surprising given the fact that  he had served as the City’s Public Relations Officer immediately prior to being elevated to Town Clerk and would therefore have come to his current job with some understanding of the virtues of image-management. He would have ‘sat through’ the plummeting of City Hall’s image over the years on account of what was widely perceived to be its incompetence and, moreover, its abject indifference to the many bouts of public outrage over its underperformance. And even if it may not be entirely Mr. King’s fault that City Hall’s image- management operations were, for the most part, a considerable failure, he needs to understand that what happened back then continues to haunt the municipality and to bedevil his own tenure and that unless there is a change in management style and more importantly its ability to get things right, the city’s administration will continue to be wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 There have been instances too, in recent times, when City Hall has appeared to think that it can operate over the heads of the citizenry, so to speak. On those occasions its modus operandi has been underpinned by nothing short of naked bullyism (some of the City’s market vendors can attest to this) though, and oddly enough, it simply never seems to occur to City Hall that these things can and usually do come back to haunt you.

And so it is that Mr. King finds himself railing, more or less, alone, against what he sees as a threat to his revenue base embodied in particular sections of the Food Safety Bill which, if enacted in its present state, will remove from City Hall the authority to license “eating houses” and “street selling.”

 If one can understand Mr. King’s eagerness to protect City Hall’s revenue base which he says could be diminished by around $6 million annually if it has to surrender the issuance of food service licences to some other authority, he needs to understand that the sense of urgency which he now appears to attach to forestalling that eventuality will inevitably be set against the protracted lack of public trust in the service-delivery capabilities of the municipality – in areas like garbage- collection, for example –  which City Hall continues to overlook and the considerable likelihood that public opinion  may well see the advent of a new Food Service Authority as an avenue through which to put the whole City Hall experience behind us and to upgrade the administration of the food service sector.

 One of the problems that City Hall has had to face, over time – and this problem long precedes Mr. King’s assumption to office as Town Clerk – is its perception of itself and its authority, which, it believes, accords it a generous measure of power without corresponding responsibility, a notion which, for many years, it appears to have been able to ‘sell’ to much of the citizenry, seemingly without much difficulty,  largely because of what, over time, has been a lack of public insistence on accountability. What City Hall appears to really want is a ‘free pass’ to allow its track record for incompetence and an absence of accountability to be put to one side and to have it continue to function in a business as usual ‘bubble,’ as though everything is honky dory.

 It is entirely in that context that Mr. King appears oblivious to the fact that the licensing of eating houses and the vending of food on the streets must go way beyond the mere issuance of routine paper certification in exchange for the augmentation of the City’s coffers without any significant raising of standards insofar as our food safety regimen is concerned.

 A cursory glance at the food service sector points not only to an absence of stringent regulation but also to a lack of sustained enforcement of any serious standards, which is part of the licensing understanding between City Hall and the vendors. It will be recalled that City Hall actually allowed several food establishments to operate without licensing or food handling documents or even CH&PA permission to build eating houses for a considerable period before finally closing them down late last year. During the interregnum the offenders were simply served with ‘violation letters’ notwithstanding the fact that many of them we operating under insanitary conditions and even without food handling certificates.

City Hall’s overall method of administration over the years has given rise to considerable public concern in the area of food safety, among others. In the specific instance of food safety, the impact has been not only on the physical well-being of local consumer; it also has implications for visitor attitudes to ‘eating out’ in Guyana and particularly to ‘sampling’ the cuisine offered by street vendors in circumstances where street vendors have come to be an integral part of the tourism product in many countries. Raising standards in this area means bringing an end to the ‘free pass’ that the municipality has, for years, afforded itself, to get away with proverbial murder as far as food safety and other important deliverables are concerned. If City Hall is incapable of delivering the services that go along with its licensing of eating houses then the Town Clerk’s lobby for the municipality to retain the prerogative should not be allowed to interfere with the passage of the Food Safety Bill.

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