After reading a letter which appeared in your Stabroek News issue of Thursday, April 5, captioned: ‘To attempt to forcibly impose a contract the people have rejected is to take the road of high-handedness’ signed by Councillor, Khame Sharma, I have grudgingly come to the conclusion that much more work needs to be done in the areas of civic awareness, training and education in local government and governance, and the City Council. Owing to the fact the new approach to constituency politics facilitates representatives from local neighbourhoods becoming councillors, there is need for awareness and education at that level. If this is not done then councillors will undermine the very council of which they are a part.
That said, it is very clear that Councillor Sharma did not pay
attention to his own advice in the penultimate paragraph of his letter: “The time has come to put aside narrow partisan interests …” because his entire letter demonstrates very narrow partisan interest. In fact, in that very paragraph he attempts to admonish the council on its method of voting. He suggests that the council should vote by secret ballot which he claims will ensure transparency and accountability. He also equates secret ballot with doing the right thing. Apparently, it has not dawned on him that democracy, which appears to be a key theme in his letter, means the will of the majority must be implemented, although the rights of the minority must be respected. It must have escaped his attention that the method of voting in the council is voted upon by all Councillors and that by itself is a function of democracy. That there are multiple ways of voting in an organization; no single method could be deemed to be more transparent than another. And what would make Councillor Sharma think that a vote by secret ballot is free and fair and a vote by another method isn’t?
Again, the Municipal District and Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 is very clear on this matter. It requires the Town Clerk to write down the names of those members voting for or against the motion, and of those abstaining, and that these names be recorded in the minutes.
Again, in paragraph 4, he rails about the fact that the Council “… has not built even one road in the city and its maintenance of roads is at a standstill.” However, the provision of such vital municipal services and facilities requires financial and other resources which the council does not have at this point in time. In 1996, the then City Engineer give an estimate of about $14 million to construct one mile of asphalt road. It is this lack of resources that forces the council to be innovative and to come up with new ideas and ways to generate funds to get on with its work and to manage its responsibility. The parking meter project is one such innovation to raise much- needed revenue for Georgetown. But what Councillor Sharma failed to mention in his letter is the pollution to the environment caused by emissions from vehicles used by motorists searching for parking space, the disorder and near chaos on our roads due to indiscipline and lawlessness and the insecurity of our children and senior citizens, who must navigate their way in and between vehicles improperly parked, and of course the criminal activities facilitated by this confusion. Therefore, parking meters are not predatory as the Councillor supposed. Metered parking is part of a wider plan to bring order to city streets.
The Councillor then turns his attention to the city finances. He states: “There can be no excuse for squandering much of the revenue collected from rates and taxes, market fees and fines and the massive injection of funds by central government, previous and present. Wasteful spending, mismanagement, incompetence, and sheer extravagance continue, with trips abroad, large entourages, and huge sums allocated this year for city celebrations.”
I agree with Councillor Sharma that is why the council does not indulge in such activities. Even if we wanted to squander money there is none. In fact, it is public knowledge that the council is in a precarious financial situation. Our expenditure continues to outstrip our revenue. This is so because we provide a plethora of crucial municipal services. The goods and other things needed to provide these services continue to increase while the property rates for Georgetown remain constant. The city has not had a valuation of properties since 1996. Rentals at our municipal markets and many of the fees we charge for administrative services are very low, but we are trying to cope, and we have great optimism that better days are coming not only for the city but for all of Guyana. We remain confident in the leadership and vision of the government and we know that Guyana is on the threshold of greatness and prosperity.
With respect to the Councillor’s reference to trips abroad and huge sums of money allocated this year for city celebrations, whenever the Mayor and/or Councillors travel abroad on behalf of the council they usually attempt to achieve certain clear objectives: to build new relations and strengthen existing ones with our sister cities, and to seek and mobilize resources to enhance the capacity of the municipality. The council does not view the Mayor and Councillors’ travel overseas as trips, but as important and necessary socio-cultural, political and economic interactions, particularly in circumstances where Guyana and by extension Georgetown are part of the global village. In most cases, expenses are paid for by the host cities, organizations or agencies.
On the other matter of huge sums allocated for celebrations, I have to say that this statement is fallacious. Councillor Sharma is fully aware that no money has been allocated for celebrations, at the council. The minutes of the council would show that the matter of having special activities to mark the elevation of Georgetown from a Town to a City was discussed at the Social Development Committee. An unofficial sum was floated by a few members. It was agreed that a sub-committee would look at a schedule of activities and report to the appropriate standing committee. No money was approved or allocated from the council’s budget for celebrations. And the Councillor knows that, because the matter was raised about one month ago at a full statutory meeting and the Chairman of the Finance Committee informed the Council that no money was allocated for any such celebrations.
Similarly, it is simply not true that: “…a Senior Councillor and former General Secretary of the ruling party … allegedly proclaimed, there was no need for a vote on whether to re-install meters on the city streets since we could do it anyway without even putting it to a vote. It is significant that this Councillor is one of the four signatories on the parking meter contract. So why this show of being democratic when the road chosen is clearly autocratic and authoritarian…” The word allegedly was deliberately used by the Councillor to cover a falsehood.
Again, he states, “Duly elected Coun-cillors are the last to be consulted while the appointed Town Clerk who heads the administration continues to make decisions unilaterally. The same can be said of the minutes of statutory meetings where the agenda is unilaterally set and matters arising are not permitted to be discussed unless they appear in the Statutory Report presented. These minutes are then adopted and seconded without any meaningful discussion on issues of concern.” The falsity of this assertion is very troubling; it does not reflect the system at council. I believe that the Councillor does not fully understand the functions and responsibilities of my office. The Town Clerk is a creature of the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01.
The Town Clerk is the human instrumentality by whom, generally, the administration of the City Council is executed.
Even so, the Town Clerk does not unilaterally set the agendas for committees or the Statutory Meetings of the Council. Matters are placed on the agenda of a committee by referrals from statutory meetings, requests from the chairmen of committees, matters and issues from local communities that require a resolution or a decision of the council. Agendas are discussed with Chairmen of committees. In the case of matters arising from the Minutes, some time ago, under the mayoralty of Hamilton Green, the council took a decision to remove Matters arising from the Minutes from the Statutory Agenda because it facilitated unnecessary arguments and delays of the meetings; makes meetings less efficient; almost all of the matters arising can be discussed under committee reports; and there is no provision in the Act under the Standing Orders for such an item.
Again, the Councillor states: “The problem is the council finds itself bankrupt both financially and in terms of viable and innovative ideas, on the way forward.” Assuming this is the case, the question should then be exactly what idea, innovation, policy or any other contribution the Councillor has submitted to help the council out of this position?
I wish to make one final point on the rights of citizens. The Councillor assumes to himself the right to speak for the rights of citizens when he said: “In a democratic society, citizens have the right to criticize their governments if they believe that its actions are wrong. To attempt to forcibly implement a contract that has already been rejected by the masses is to take the road of highhandedness and a most callous and uncaring approach by any standard. ”
First, we are not sure for whom he speaks when he talks about the masses. Second, what about the rights of the citizens who want the project, and on whose behalf the council acted in good faith to introduce this new innovation? We have said that we are aware that there are some citizens, who have difficulty with different aspects of the project. However, there are those, who see great benefits in this innovation and know that it will make the city safer and more livable. What about their rights?
Generally, this letter is really part of a wider campaign, by some, to sully the image of the council and make its officials look uncaring and unsuited to manage the city. Why else would a Councillor knowingly write a letter to the editor riddled with errors, misinformation, and fabrications?
However, as the Clerk of the Council I will not falter in my responsibility to the municipality. I am called to deliver an outcome of a green, safe and livable city, in circumstances of unprecedented environmental conditions and events and with perspectives on the production of oil and gas. Therefore, at the council, we need to eliminate negative and frictional forces and harness our collective energies to achieve this outcome.
City of Georgetown