In what appears to be a carefully thought-out plan, Councillors were surprised by the way the draft M&CC Budget for the fiscal year 2018 was passed by the Councillors who remained at the Extra-ordinary Statutory Meeting of the council on Wednesday 7th March 2018, to discuss and decide on this 133 page document.
It is indeed disturbing that the election for a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor expected to take office by 1st April 2018 has not taken place as yet, especially since a no confidence motion brought against the Town Clerk, Mr Royston King might be subverted using legal arguments as hinted at by the present Mayor, Ms Patricia Chase Green. This Budget was passed by the AFC+APNU majority remaining in the Chamber after several Councillors had left in apparent disgust over the fact that it seemed to leave much to be desired. It is speculative and while full of what some may feel as noble intentions, in reality speaks to the opposite. Its aim seems to be to keep the present council on course, in the hope that it survives the upcoming local government elections scheduled for the end of this year.
Unable to recover from the state of bankruptcy caused by mismanagement, incompetence, a top-heavy bureaucracy, extravagant spending and corruption, among other things, the council is now more than ever relying on central government and more borrowing, together with a plethora of hidden taxes to keep things afloat, and in the coming months, to turn things around. This is clearly evident in the reliance on $120M already budgeted for parking meter fees, which has not yet materialized since the notorious contract is still in court over its legality.
Moreover there is a whopping increase in container fees, which have not yet been approved by the Private Sector Commission. Any increase in fees will place greater burdens on already heavily taxed consumers. The Budget will have to be viewed from this perspective, since like the previous Budget, which incidentally was discussed and passed by a vote in principle, resulted in dismal failures in 2017. With no clear goals in mind this Budget seems like Alice in Wonderland, representing an attempt to befuddle the minds of citizens as to where the council might be heading.
Proposed increased stipends for councillors, proposals for $20M for city celebrations, $5M for a Christmas party, later dubbed Christmas ‘activities’ will therefore be viewed with grave suspicion. Many Councillors including those from the ruling APNU+AFC coalition have already expressed their views through the No Confidence Motion tabled by the AFC and supported by many from the coalition against the Town Clerk who is the appointed head of the administration. There is also the intransigence shown by the Mayor of Georgetown, who continues to operate as an executive Mayor rather than as a primus inter pares. The Mayor is the first among elected councillors since he or she is elected by Councillors and not on the basis of party politics.
Since the beginning of the year, to date nothing much has changed except for recognition that City Hall is falling apart. In about eight months from now, local government elections are due to be held, but several questions posed to Town Clerk Royston King remain unanswered. The No Confidence vote should be seen as the first step in the right direction in bringing the runaway Town Clerk to face the questions raised by numerous Councillors on numerous occasions. He must be held accountable since he is the chief administrator.
The Budget presentation speaks volumes, though it is silent since the press has been kept out of the deliberations. Let’s take one item, where the Town Clerk is to be allocated some $320,000,000.00 million for his department and $296,000,000.00 million has been allocated to promote and enhance the health, security and well-being of the M&CC. Where is the priority?
While some may argue that this Budget is built on good intentions can we convince the man in the street? Will budgeting $120M for re-implementing parking meters on the municipal streets not prove disastrous as experienced before? How can we be convinced that by the Mayor going forward and imposing exorbitant fees rejected initially by the Private Sector Commission that this will not amount to increased costs of products as businessmen jack up prices to offset increased fees for containers. What about the fees proposed for garbage collection which were previously tied in with rates and taxes? The PPP/C councillors remain opposed to any additional tax burdens on the working people living in the City of Georgetown. This will certainly reverberate throughout the entire country as the economy continues in its spiral downturn.
Before concluding, it would be remiss of me not to remind consumers of some of the ways we can contribute if given the opportunity to address some, if not all the problems of the city in a more positive and assertive way.
The first step will be to do away with this proclivity of secrecy that seems to have permeated all aspects of our society. If there is nothing to hide why the secrecy and lack of transparency? There is need to take into consideration the Auditor General Reports for 2015 & 2016, the recommendations of the Burrowes Commission of Inquiry, Vol 1, 2 and 3, the Raymond Gaskin report and the Akbar Khan report, as a start.
It should be noted that Councillors are not privy to these reports much less the completed Human Resources Audit, the results of which are not available as yet to individual Councillors. So what about the reports of the four statutory committees which hardly met for 2017?
While 2017 proved to be a year of dismal failures for the M&CC there is no hope for 2018 as the council seems to have lost its way.