Citizens want the city managed properly

Dear Editor,

I respond to a letter published in the Guyana Chronicle on March 3 captioned ‘The politics at City Hall has become rotten’ which was penned by a Mr Peter Padmore as his response to a letter which I had sent to all of the local newspapers.

It is quite clear that Mr Peter Padmore’s (if that is his real name) intention is to excuse his friends at City Hall from the numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement and to deflect from those issues by surreptitiously injecting his well-rehearsed but erroneous counter arguments of wrongdoing by the previous government. He should be reminded that current accusations of corruption and mismanagement at City Hall are also being raised and documented by members of his own party and coalition members including the late Councillor Garrett and also from citizens across the political spectrum.

Two Councillors who are members of the coalition have filed a Motion of No-Confidence against the Town Clerk based on numerous questionable actions by the council’s administration. I will declare here that I support that measure and also to state that I have been calling for a comprehensive forensic audit of the council for a very long time.

My moral authority to question what is taking place at City Hall is based on the fact that I am a concerned citizen who lives in Georgetown and also the fact that I was not involved or remotely near any of the unproven (in a court of law) accusations of corruption which Mr Padmore has carelessly levelled against the previous administration. I am also an elected Councillor of the City of Georgetown so it is my duty and responsibility to ensure that the affairs of the City Council are conducted in an efficient, accountable and transparent manner, and that core services are being performed.

I must say without reservation that I am against corruption by public officials. However, the government or authorities must not selectively pursue reports of corruption but should pursue such reports even if they involve members of their own political party, in the name of good governance. We have heard of forensic audits authorized for many ministries and agencies for the period when the PPP/C was in government. But we have not heard of any Commissions of Inquiry or forensic audits ordered for the D’Urban Park project, the drug bond, the parking meter contract, the oil agreement with ExxonMobil, or the operations of City Hall.

The Auditor General is required by law to audit the books of the City Council every year, but has not been able to perform successful audits for many years due to missing records or improper record-keeping procedures, in addition to the many cases of unauthorized spending discovered. Mr Padmore should explain the Auditor General’s findings on the $300 million subvention given to the council by government for Jubilee cleanup in 2015 where there were 167 instances where payment vouchers were not authorized, 140 payment vouchers were not approved by the Treasurer, 58 payments were not approved by the Finance Committee with a combined total of $352 million without proper records or authorizations.

The Auditor General had also reported that all of the related contracts, payment vouchers and other supporting documents for the $200 million government subvention given to the council in 2016 for the Georgetown Restoration Programme were not presented to the Auditor General. As a result of their continued financial and record-keeping irregularities, the Auditor General announced in February 2018 that he will conduct a forensic audit relating to this $200 million subvention which is also the subject of investigation by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

Many citizens want to know why City Hall is getting this special pass or exemption by the government where accountability is concerned. Is it because the council and central government are controlled by members of the same political coalition and that exposure of corruption or mismanagement is not desirable on their part?

The “honourable man” Mr Padmore refers to happens to be the Chairman of the council’s Finance Committee responsible for financial matters and also Chairman of the Human Resource and Management Committee responsible for personnel. The Finance Committee is led by Councillor Oscar Clarke, who has been a Councillor for approximately eighteen years and has been in the Finance Committee for a very long time. My contentions and concerns will always be about the offices that these individuals hold and their competence or satisfactory discharge of their responsibilities, and are not of a personal nature. The Chairman and members of the Finance Committee are responsible for approving all payments of the council and they have authorized payments for work which were not tendered or approved by the full council. The Finance Committee and its members have never produced a detailed financial statement on the payments that they have approved or any contract which they have examined and agreed to, except for the parking meter contract which council was forced to release.

Mr Padmore is obviously confused about whose responsibility it is to keep Georgetown clean. It is the responsibility of the M&CC to maintain the council’s roads and drainage, and take care of garbage, sanitation, markets and other areas. It is indisputable that Georgetown became known as the ‘Garbage City’ because the City Council failed in their responsibility to keep the city clean. The council has not repaired any roads for years and this was previously done by the PPP/C administration when they were in office, and is currently being done by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure which is also assisting in cleaning drains and canals. The PPP/C administration also poured hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance into the City Council over the years. The current government has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the council to keep Georgetown clean.

Why did the coalition government or the Minister of Communities not release money directly to the City Council to pay the garbage contractors who were owed over $300 million in 2017? The government through the Minister of Communities negotiated directly with the garbage contractors and paid them without any money passing through the City Council officials?

And why did the Minister of Communities decide to hire contractors directly and pay them to complete Phase One of the Kitty Market rehabilitation project, instead of giving the money directly to council? The council wanted that subvention from the Ministry but it was not given to them.

It should be noted that Georgetown has been controlled since our country’s independence in 1966 by one group, and they continue to exercise control over the affairs of the city to this day. No one in the wildest stretch of their imagination could say that City Hall had been efficiently managed for the longest time. From one crisis to another involving finances, records, workers’ salaries, garbage, drainage, failing to remit deductions from employees’ salaries to NIS, GRA and the credit union, the unauthorized issuing of leases, the violation of tender procedures and unauthorized fees, among many other issues, it is disappointing that Mr Padmore cannot look at this situation objectively and recognize that there is a big problem at City Hall which needs to be corrected for the benefit of our citizens and stakeholders.

Citizens want our city to be managed properly with trained people who are accountable for the monies entrusted to them, so that drainage problems can be fixed, garbage removed, parapets weeded and cleaned, roads repaired, markets repaired, there is better security around the city, the laws are followed, and for accountability, transparency and good governance to finally be implemented at City Hall.

Yours faithfully,

Bishram Kuppen

Councillor

M&CC

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