Disgraceful management of Kitty Market project

Guyana has many buildings boasting historical significance and one such building is the Kitty Municipal Market. Commencing operations since 1888, this once beautiful 19th century wooden structure had suffered massive deterioration due to the years of neglect that many such buildings were subjected to, necessitating the complete repair and rehabilitation of the building.

In February 2016, Stabroek News reported that the rehabilitation works costing $240M had begun and that the repairs were set to be completed within three to five months. The renovated market was to house a health centre, offices facilitating the payment of rates and taxes, and space for the City’s councillors.

In January, 2018 nearly two years since works were supposed to have commenced, we reported that the project had stalled due to the City Council not garnering sufficient funding for the project. The Ministry of Communities then chipped in with $25M drawn from Government’s $200M “Georgetown Restoration Programme” fund and this sum was said to be sufficient to complete the “first phase” of the project.

If one were to describe the approach to the management of the project by the City, words such as “piecemeal” and “erratic” might be considered apt. Once the cost of the rehabilitation works was decided at $240M in 2016, then the next obvious step was to source financing for the project. Once funding was sourced contracts could be formalised with those carrying out the various aspects of the works and the effective and efficient management of the project cycle – not just a theoretical construct – could be realised.

While we recognise that the City’s budget is in a severe deficit, this does not remove the obligation of the City’s managers to manage this project prudently, exercising pragmatic judgement every step of the way. Indeed, the City’s cash-strapped reality makes pragmatic planning and careful execution of projects like these an even more critical necessity. To adopt an ad-hoc approach, piecemeal implementation and execution of important projects, is to run the risk of having several stalled and slowly moving projects in existence at the same time, each competing for scarce funds while the cost of the project climbs higher as costs and prices lose relevance with the passage of time.

And while the repair and refurbishing of the Kitty Market limps along, with vendors displaced and new and existing vendors eying the renewed availability of commercial space whenever the market is opened once more for business, the City Council was reported in the news media last February as “mulling” the spending of $20M on the holding of a “Town Week.” When considering that just the month before, that is, in January, the Council could not afford monies to spend on the market, and works stalled while waiting on an injection of $25M from the Central Government, it must cross even the most disinterested observer’s mind that planning is not this City Council’s forte.

But even bad planning cannot be an excuse for what seems to be a deeper issue: the inability or unwillingness to assign levels of importance and treat priority issues as just that – priority issues. How could a Council that has presided (at least in part in terms of several of its longstanding councillors) over the deterioration and neglect of the Kitty Market, then belatedly displace vendors plying their trade there, then proceed to execute the repair project in a ragged and uncertain manner, contemplate literally “blowing” $20M on the celebration of the “birth” of the city of Georgetown which that same Council is doing a poor job of managing.

If the City had represented a financial justification for the relatively huge expense of $20M, and showed clearly how it would make a substantial profit after the week-long jollification, then – assuming that the plan was indeed feasible – there would be a rationale for the spending of the $20M on on-going, sensible projections with windfall profits expected. However, this was not the case; the City just saw a need to celebrate its “birthday” in spite of its financial deficit standing and despite having important projects and daily operations requiring scarce financial resources.

In fact, it was just last November that the City Council could not find funds to carry out one of its most fundamental obligations, which is, to pay its employees – particularly its rank and file minimum wage earners. At that time the then Deputy Mayor was able to get a “delinquent” ratepayer to settle their accounts to the tune of $7M. Fast forward from November 2017 to February 2018 and we read that the City has reason (its “birthday”) and means ($20M) to celebrate for one full week. To call this situation “mind-boggling” would be a mild understatement.

In January, 2018 we reported that the “first phase” works financed by the Ministry of Communities $25M would be completed in three months. Five months after we are learning that the Kitty Market is not yet open for business because the “Markets and Public Health Committee” is causing the delay of the “partial opening” of the market because that committee has not yet decided on a “new fee structure” according to the Guyana Chronicle.

It is difficult to contemplate how, at this late stage, the planners and managers are only now contemplating the income generation side of the project. But with the examples of the old fee structure of the Kitty Market and the comparable fee structures of existing markets such as Bourda, Stabroek and La Penitence to name a few, resolving this matter should not keep the committee up at nights.

The time has long passed for the City Councillors to adopt sensible and pragmatic approaches, with emphasis on income feasibility in planning and executing projects.

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