The Town Clerk is in control with the blessing of Mayor and some Councillors

Dear Editor,

One Georgetown City Councillor recently wrote in the newspapers that the (elected) council was no longer in charge at City Hall and that Town Clerk Royston King was in full command. I agree that the Town Clerk is in control, but with the blessings of some powerful Councillors and the Mayor. I would also add that he has been in control since the election of the new council in 2016 and his actions and acceptance of such actions by the majority have been evident all along.

Another newspaper article commented that one Councillor may have just awoken from his two-year slumber when he wrote and expressed his shock at the current financial situation at City Hall. But the reality of the mismanagement that is taking place at City Hall has been raised and highlighted on numerous occasions by myself and a few other Councillors at the statutory meetings of the council, while Councillors and the local press were in full attendance. The majority of Councillors are aware of the issues but have elected not to publicly challenge the Town Clerk, Mayor and Finance Committee Chairman. With the announcement of upcoming local government elections, it is expected that some Councillors may be inclined to make public statements on mismanagement at City Hall or pad their accomplishments with the hopes of securing their seats.

Most of the citizens of Georgetown, stakeholders and the man-in-the-street are aware that the City Council is being mismanaged because they are feeling the brunt of it on a daily basis. The frequent garbage removal disruptions are fresh in everyone’s minds and will continue to be a problem since those services have been outsourced to highly paid contractors. Georgetown continues to experience flooding in some areas due to the drains and canals not being cleaned, with some not being cleaned for years. Many of the buildings owned by the council have been falling apart for years, including the main City Hall building, the city abattoir and the markets inclusive of Bourda, Stabroek and Albouystown. Many roads are in a state of disrepair, even though council is responsible for their repair and maintenance. There is chaos and congestion on the streets and pavements due to a lack of enforcement of existing laws and unlawful/selective permissiveness. Rates and fees are going up, but services are not being performed, while council maintains a massive and highly paid staff of over 800 employees in addition to highly paid contractors. Building codes are constantly being violated and the City Constabulary has been embroiled in one scandal after another while crime is prevalent in many council areas.

The council is in a perpetual state of financial crisis with no proper accountability or transparency for the billions of dollars spent over the years. In fact, it is so bad that the Auditor General has been unable to completely audit the books of the council for many years due to sloppy record keeping and missing records, even though the necessity for proper accounting records and procedures have been raised and should be known to the Town Clerk and City Treasurer. The Council’s Finance Committee headed by Councillor Oscar Clarke approves all expenditure for the council, but they have never presented any detailed reports of payments they have approved, or contracts which they have examined and approved. In other words, no contracts for any projects have ever been presented to the full council for examination and approval except for the parking meter contract, which they released under extreme public pressure. They have never presented any reports on the people who were granted amnesty, reductions or waivers on interest on rates and taxes owed to the council.

The 2018 budget for the council has not yet been presented, and while some discussions were held, it was discovered by myself and a few Councillors that highly inaccurate and misleading financial information was included in the draft budget proposal, including $414 million in liabilities without any meaningful details. Laws governing the tendering for products/services over $250,000 are routinely being disregarded while the Town Clerk’s office waits until the problems become so large that massive contracts have to be handed out for issues that could have been resolved with routine maintenance and repairs.

The council has been deducting National Insurance Scheme, Guyana Revenue Authority and Credit Union contributions from employees’ salaries but has not been paying these monies to those entities, a matter which I first raised in the council. In fact, the union representing the employees threatened strike action a few days ago, demanding that those contributions and outstanding salaries be paid immediately. No reports have ever been presented on the amounts owed to those entities but when City Treasurer Ron McCalmon was pressed for details at the last statutory meeting, he verbally reported that $138 million was owed to Guyana Revenue Authority for employees’ income taxes, $116 million plus $9 million in interest was owed to the National Insurance Scheme and $36 million is owed to the employees’ credit union. I demanded that a written report be presented to all Councillors, but I am doubtful that it will ever be presented since requests for many other reports have not been fulfilled by the Town Clerk who is in charge of administration.

We were presented with information that the council is considering foreign trips in 2018 for the Mayor and others including attending a Sister Cities Project in China, participation in Dragon Boat Racing in China, a trip for the Mayor and her “Team” to attend the 21 Century Maritime Committee meeting (the Mayor had signed the 21 Century Maritime Agreement on her last trip to China – isn’t this the domain of Foreign Affairs?), and a trip for the Mayor to attend the Caribbean Conference of Mayors in Kingston, Jamaica. I had previously argued in council that these foreign trips have not yielded any tangible benefits for the citizens of Georgetown and given the never-ending financial crisis at council, all foreign trips should be halted.

Most citizens are aware of the plan to build luxury homes for the Town Clerk, the Mayor and other officers and the consequential cautionary letter from the Minister of Communities when it appeared that the Town Clerk was proceeding in spite of a court order blocking any further action on the Bel Air Park community land. In addition, the Town Clerk made an agreement with a business person to partition the Farnum community playground for the use by that business person’s private school without the council’s approval. The Town Clerk has made other agreements or given permission to use the council’s reserve areas without getting the approval of the full council.

The administration headed by Town Clerk Royston King and Mayor Chase-Green have challenged interventions by the Minister of Communities to correct some of their actions. For instance, they challenged the Cabinet’s decision to suspend the parking meter by-laws when it was presented by the Minister, and the Town Clerk even hired an attorney to communicate that challenge to the Minister’s authority. Then there was the letter from the Minister of Communities to the Town Clerk which was carried in some newspapers which clarified the authority of the Town Clerk due to complaints from citizens and some Councillors. And when the central government decided to assist the council with an additional $200 million assistance recently with recommendations on how the money should be spent, they decided to go ahead with a plan they had already decided upon. The Mayor even publicly accused the Minister of Communities of meddling in the affairs of the council while she conveniently forgot the assistance the council received from government to pay the garbage contractors, repair council roads, repair Kitty Market and the pending repairs to the Stabroek wharf.

We were now informed that the Town Clerk has plans to add a new Research & Development Department to the already over-bloated City Council staff, but he has not yet provided any details even though this item was on the 2018 budget discussions. This is in addition to wardens he hired who are attached to his office and who are duplicating the functions of staff in other departments.

After having read this letter and many other letters and articles about corruption and mismanagement at the City Council, you have to wonder what could be done to correct this situation since central government appears unwilling to rock the boat at City Hall, perhaps due to overarching political considerations. But I strongly believe that the welfare and interest of the citizens must take precedence, and this situation must be corrected post-haste. While this list is not comprehensive or all-inclusive, there are a number on actions and positions that can be taken including the government finally accepting that the council is bankrupt and that the Town Clerk, Mayor and Finance Committee Chairman are incompetent and have utterly failed in the discharge of their responsibilities and should be removed from office immediately.

A robust forensic audit is necessary due to the lack of accountability and transparency in the financial dealings of council where billions have been spent and the Auditor General has been unable to perform complete audits. A team of experts from the various ministries and GRA is needed to examine systems and procedures in place or a lack thereof and to make recommendations in the areas of finance, engineering, security, health, accountability, transparency and good governance. I strongly believe that the City’s Public Health Department and Day Care Centres should be turned over to the Ministry of Health/Ministry of Education perhaps until such time when competent and effective management returns to City Hall and when council is financially viable. A close examination of the workforce is necessary to ensure that there is no redundancy and that workers and management staff possess the right qualifications and/or experience for the positions they hold. And finally, competent Councillors should be elected who can understand and make recommendations on financial, legal and social matters, and who will not be just seat-warmers or rubber-stamps and will be willing to stand up and challenge any actions that are not in the best interests of the citizens of Georgetown.

Yours faithfully,

Bishram Kuppen

Councillor

M&CC

City of Georgetown

 

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