Please refer to a letter which appeared in your Stabroek News issue of Friday, December 29, 2017 on page 7, captioned ‘It is time for another Commission of Inquiry at City Hall’ by Councillor Khame Sharma.
It has not been the practice of the Town Clerk to reply to letters written by councillors in our dailies because councillors have the right to express their concerns and to comment on matters they believe are affecting their ability to perform in their constituencies; they are elected officials. Inherent in that is the responsibility to be accountable to those who elected them to serve on local government bodies. However, it is this very position of councillor that obliges them to be truthful and accurate in their attempts to represent issues and events in the organizations in which they serve citizens. Officers of the council too, particularly those with clearly defined statutory duties, powers and responsibilities, have an obligation to the council and the city as a whole because they are being paid from the city’s Treasury to provide vital municipal services to local communities.
Understanding my role as Town Clerk and the need for all citizens to be properly informed about the realities at City Hall I feel a deep obligation to make three points on the letter by Mr Sharma.
I have to say that although I have the utmost respect for the Councillor, on examining the contents of his letter, I am shocked by a worrying demonstration of his ignorance, not only of his role as a councillor, but also of the way in which the council is managed. This has influenced his decision to pen a letter with over twenty questions to the press.
For this reason, I must respectfully encourage the Councillor to read the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01, which stipulates and explains the different processes involved in the management and governance of the Mayor and City Council and by extension the City of Georgetown.
First, it is important to note that the council has an adequate structure that facilitates reporting responsibilities of the administration to the council and citizens of Georgetown. This permits questions of information and clarification on any and all matters affecting the functionality of the council. Further, the council meets fortnightly for statutory meetings. Also, there are allowances for extraordinary meetings, special meetings and committee meetings to deliberate, discuss and make recommendations, decisions and policies. Again, there are minutes, agendas and supplementary documents on the proceedings of all meetings of the council. The answers to Councillor Sharma’s questions are not “blowing in the wind”, they are in the records of the council.
Therefore, it is very strange that Councillor Sharma would write a letter to the press to publicly ask questions, many of which were already discussed at statutory and other meetings of the council and for which the minutes are available in the archives of the council. One other point, this is the kind of action that makes it difficult for the council to earn public trust and confidence in its effort to sustainably develop Georgetown. If the Councillor would only take time to familiarize himself with the Act and pay attention to the discussions and debates then he would find his action of writing letters to the press to ask basic questions unnecessary.
I will give two examples: In his letter on the question of the Kitty Market, at 14: “When will the first phase of Kitty Market be completed, including the sanitary block, by the Council and vendors on the street corners re-located to their stalls in the market?”
However, citizens would recall that the Kitty Market was in a ruinous state for many years; it became an embarrassment to that community, an eyesore. Stallholders were operating in a dangerous place in that building. Under this new administration, that facility was given priority. In the face of harsh criticisms, the council used its own money from its very shallow treasury to begin restoring the market because of its historical, community and economic significance. Yes, we had some setbacks because of resource constraints. Yes we missed timelines. But where was Mr Sharma when the market was falling apart under a previous administration that could have very well afforded to restore that heritage building? Mr Sharma is a resident of that community but never penned a line during those years when the council was starved of resources and prevented from implementing revenue-earning projects.
Today, Mr Sharma is a Councillor of the City Council with a very critical voice. Nothing is wrong with that, but it is necessary for me to point to that as a reference to demonstrate the level of partisan politics being played out at City Hall and its implications for our ability to get things done. If this were not the case, then instead of asking disempowering questions about when the council will complete the market that had reached a state of near collapse, he could have asked empowering questions like, how can I as a councillor assist to restore the Kitty Market? Or what more can we, as a council, do to hasten the restoration of that facility.
Again, at 16 the Councillor asked: When will elections be conducted for a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor for 2018 as required by law? When this question was addressed by the Town Clerk, at the council’s last statutory held on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, Councillor Sharma had left his seat and the precincts of the chamber without observing the appropriate protocol. However, I explained to the council that according to the Municipal and District Councils Act Chapter 28:01, Section 10, “The term of office of the Mayor and that of the Deputy Mayor shall, subject to this Act, be one year, commencing on the first day of the month following upon their election but the Mayor and Deputy Mayor shall, notwithstanding the expiry of his term of office, continue to hold office until his successor enters upon office and thereupon he shall retire.” Since the incumbent Mayor and Deputy Mayor commenced their term of office on April 1, 2017, elections for those offices would be held in March 2018. However, they will remain in office until their successors are properly sworn in and in place to perform their functions beginning April 1, 2018.
Again, his reference to occurrences in the towns of Linden and New Amsterdam by secret ballot is testimony to the challenge we face at City Hall. Methods of voting are decided upon by the councillors involved in their respective jurisdictions. The City Council has always determined what approach it would use in its elections of Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Committee Members. How is it possible for a councillor serving in the nation’s capital not to be aware of this basic process in city governance? Perhaps, the Honourable Council-lor has a hidden agenda and is attempting subtly to test an intention to propose another system of voting at the Council for the elections of Mayor and Deputy for 2018. Even so, there is no need for this action because the councillor can simply make his proposal on the day of the elections, which of course will be put to a vote at the Council.
Regrettably, many of the other questions in his letter really trivialize the importance of the council and the serious role councillors ought to play in securing the integrity of their local communities and promoting the welfare of their citizens.
That notwithstanding, I remain very optimistic and confident that in 2018, the council will continue to have substantial achievements in the areas of solid waste management, drainage, the environment and the general economy of the city through strong collective leadership, innovation and solid partnerships with all stakeholders.
City of Georgetown