City’s decision to open bank account for Social Development Committee should be reversed in the interest of accountability, good governance

Dear Editor,

In a shocking move, the APNU+AFC majority on the Georgetown City Council voted at the Statutory meeting held on May 28, 2019 to immediately open a special bank account for the Social Development Committee which is headed by former Mayor Patricia Chase-Green. The PPP/C Councillors voted against the opening of this special bank account for important reasons which will be explained.

It should be noted that Councillor Chase-Green is not only the current Chairman of the Social Development Committee but she has also been the Chairman of that Committee during the previous two Councils, meaning that she has been at the helm of this committee for more than a decade. This committee is comprised of seven Councillors as members with two of them serving as Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

It was Mayor Ubraj Narine himself who introduced the subject of a special bank account for the Social Development Committee at the statutory meeting. He actually pushed for such an account to be opened which seems to indicate that he was probably ill-informed and did not make any inquiries or do any research on the issue.

The question of a special bank account for the Social Development Committee has always been a problematic issue since there are no provisions in the laws or by-laws sanctioning a special independent bank account for the Social Development Committee to be managed by certain councillors. I argued against the opening of this bank account and referred to the Keith Burrowes Report which had recommended the closing of this account since 2012.

I had also objected to a special bank account for the Social Development Committee at the previous Council where former Town Clerk Royston King seemed to have misinterpreted Section 148 (3) of the Municipal and District Councils Act Cap 28:01 which referred to maintaining separate (ledger) accounts for revenue and expenditures for money deposited into or spent from the authorized bank account for such purposes which was the general rate fund. The Municipal & District Councils Act (M&DC Act) also makes provision for loans taken out by the Council which are not considered as revenue and must be deposited into a separate loan fund.

To understand the structure of the Georgetown City Council, one must refer to the Municipal and District Councils Act 28:01 where the City Council consists of the elected Mayor and Councillors as the policy-making & oversight body while the administration of the Council is headed by the Town Clerk where decisions of the Council are executed and standard operating procedures are followed.

The Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Act of 2013 outlines the duties of Councillors in Section 8A and it does not include any power to undertake administrative duties which are under the control of the Town Clerk or the City Treasurer. So the activities of the Social Development Committee relating to selling of Mashramani and Carnival spots, issuing loans and bursaries and maintaining a separate bank account appear to be outside of what is permissible by law and also beyond the scope of Councillors’ responsibilities. The responsibility for executing all revenue-garnering activities or executing payment decisions of Council falls under the offices of the Town Clerk and the City Treasurer and not the Social Development Committee which appears to be usurping the responsibilities of the Town Clerk’s office.

Further, Sections 60-69 of the M&DC Act refers to the formation of Committees and rules governing such committees. No committee has the power to enter into contracts unless such authority is given by the Council. Selling of spots for Carnival and Mashramani can be considered as simple contracts which the Social Development Committee does not have the authority to undertake and this is an administrative task which should be performed by the Town Clerk’s office.

If there was ever a decision made by the Council to assign such responsibilities to a Committee or to certain Councillors, no evidence was produced to substantiate such claim such as the Minutes of a meeting where such decision was made. In addition, no such responsibility is assigned in the Terms of Reference for the Social Development Committee either.

A Commission of inquiry was authorized in 2012 to investigate the operations of City Hall due to accusations of corruption and mismanagement. The Commission was headed by Keith Burrowes and it made forty-five recommendations which were to be implemented by the Georgetown City Council. It was reported that one of those recommendations included the closing of a number of bank accounts, including the Social Development Committee’s bank account which also existed at that time.

The Social Development Committee has never produced any audited financial statements for any monies which were collected, spent, disbursed or loaned over the years even though the Committee had been involved in numerous activities and events.

Everyone is aware that the Georgetown City Council has been experiencing financial difficulties for many years and so it would have been expected that all activities would be geared towards garnering more revenue or reducing expenses for the Council. But according to reports, the Social Development Committee was giving away free spots for Mashramani, offering discounts and also paying certain Councillors for working Mashramani and Carnival while Council workers also received extra pay in addition to their regular salaries.

It should be noted that the Social Development Committee handles all Mashramani, Carnival and Independence activities for the Georgetown City Council in addition to other social events. Councillor Chase-Green had openly said at a statutory meeting that all monies from the Carnival celebrations must be deposited in the Social Development Committee account even before Council approved this new request.

The stated purpose for this new special bank account for the Social Development Committee which will be opened with immediate effect was to allow staff and other community members to have access to small loans outside the “bureaucracy of the treasurer’s department”. In other words, the APNU+AFC Mayor and Councillors are stating that they intend to bypass the City Treasurer’s office and also violate the laws and existing procedures.

At a statutory meeting in September 2011, former Councillor Junior Garrett (deceased) “lamented the fact that the cash-strapped Council had apparently become a loan agency to certain senior members” (Guyana Chronicle 1/7/14). Citizens and former workers have alleged that the Social Development Committee bank account was used as a slush fund with no accountability.

Employees of the Georgetown City Council make contributions to their credit union which allowed them in the past to take out small loans from time to time from that institution. However,  those contributions were diverted for other purposes instead of being remitted to the Credit Union and this has been going on for many years. As a result, the Council workers cannot obtain any loans from the Credit Union. The City Council has not yet brought the credit union accounts up to date so workers continue to be deprived of the benefits to which they are entitled from the Credit Union.

But the deliberate failure of the Council to remit employees’ contributions to the Credit Union is simply not enough reason to disregard or violate the laws and also the recommendations of that Commission of Inquiry, to open a special bank account which will be controlled by the Social Development Committee.

So even with new Mayor Ubraj Narine and many new Councillors on board, the dysfunctional state of the City Council continues to prevail with yet another unsound and detrimental decision to open a special bank account for the Social Development Committee to “bypass the bureaucracy of the Treasurer’s department”.

I call on all citizens to contact Mayor Ubraj Narine and also the Councillors to reverse this decision in the interest of accountability and good governance.

Yours faithfully,

Bishram Kuppen

PPP/C Councillor –

Georgetown City Council

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