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…Georgetown Mayor says gov’t withholding of funds, lack of consultation with will cripple city
By Lisa Hamilton
Mayor of Georgetown, Ubraj Narine said that it is obvious that the city of Georgetown is intentionally being stifled under the current Administration. He further cautioned that should the Government and the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall, continue to withhold funding from the Council, Georgetown will be crippled and citizens must look to these leaders for answers.
Some two weeks ago, in an interview with the newspaper, Minister Dharamlall said that leaders at the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) are making political the matter of solid waste management in Georgetown, instead of using its resources to do a satisfactory job.
He said that not only does the Council have enough finances to keep the city clean but the completion of the forensic audit into the Municipality and its spending under the APNU+AFC is needed. Before then, on April 26, 2021, Narine had brought to the media’s attention the Council’s request for “immediate financial assistance” from Central Government due to the Municipality’s non-receipt of budgetary subventions for 2020 of 10 million dollars and for 2021, 30 million dollars.
In his statement, he said that the Georgetown Municipality is “suffering under the management of the Government of Guyana” which affects the management of garbage and COVID-19 in the city.
COUNCIL NEEDS MONEY TO TACKLE GARBAGE
In an interview with the Village Voice News, almost a month later, Mayor Narine said none of his concerns, brought formally to the attention of the President and Minister Dharamlall, have been addressed. He said that while Minister Dharamlall has deemed political the state of Georgetown as it relates to garbage management, the fact remains that the Council needs finances to properly operate and it is not political to state such a fact.
“It is not a political attack on the Government. The Government needs to help the City Council, to give us our rightful subvention as stipulated in the Fiscal Transfers Act.”
During the APNU+AFC’s tenure in Government, Narine said the City Council annually received new garbage trucks along with tractors and trailers that boosted garbage collection efforts — donations the Council hasn’t seen since. Added to this, the former Government helped to bail out M&CC’s garbage debt in 2019.
Narine said: “We do not receive that kind of help anymore from the Central government. I don’t know what political gimmicks Dharamlall is up to. I have nothing personal against him but he has to operate as a Minister and pave the way for local democratic organs to function and better serve the people in this country.”
As a growing city, the Mayor underscored that the M&CC cannot be expected to manage Georgetown on age-old levels of funding, and, worse is the withholding of the little that they receive. This, he said, is not his political conclusion but fact.
To support his position, he cited the report of Professor Dr. James Rose, who was appointed — among others — by the PPP/C Administration in 1994 to sit on the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Georgetown City Council.
“Professor Rose was installed by Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Professor Rose made mention in his report that rates and taxes are not enough to run the City Council. We have to look for other avenues to get revenues so that we can be able to maintain and purchase the right resources to manage the city,” Narine said.
One of the alternative means the Council has embarked on is the introduction of littering bylaws.
The Council has approved new littering by-laws which propose fines between $25,000 to $100,000 for littering. However, before such is enacted into law, it must be put out to the public for awareness, consultations and recommendation. The changes made would then be approved by Council and sent to the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development for approval. This would then be taken to Parliament to be enacted as law.
The Municipality is still at the first stage of public awareness, consultation and recommendations. Narine said that he hopes that when the process arrives at the level of the Minister that it will not be stalled.
Apart from these efforts, the Mayor also continues to call on the Minister to implement the 2014-2015 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report on solid waste management for the Caribbean, which was implemented by other sister counties such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.
IS GEORGETOWN BEING VICTIMIZED?
On the contrary, Narine said that his recommendations, requests and questions to Central Government are falling on deaf ears. He provided to the newspaper several letters which show that he had written to Minister Dharamlall on several occasions to which he said no formal response was received. “None. No response. The Government doesn’t respond to your letters and he [Minister Dharamlall] does the same, he doesn’t respond to your letters,” Narine said.
Apart from the non-receipt of the budgetary subventions, one matter he has written formally to Central Government about is the withholding of his $75,000 stipend and the stipend of the Georgetown Deputy Mayor while all other Mayors and Deputies in the country have received theirs.
Narine wrote to Minister Dharamlall about the same on May 13, 2021, and carbon copied (cc) the letter to President Ali; Leader of the PNCR, former President David Granger; United States Ambassador, Sarah-Ann Lynch; Canadian High Commissioner, Mark Berman; Deputy United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner, Ray Davidson; Deputy Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation, Evelina Melbarzde; United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mikiko Tanaka and MCo-President of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Mike McCormack.
“I copied the letter to all of them. People must see that Dharamlall is victimizing the City Council,” Narine said. “The stipend can’t mine me but it’s an entitlement approved by the National Assembly. I made contact with all the other Municipalities and everybody else is receiving their benefits of that stipend, only Georgetown has been victimized.”
Meanwhile, in late March 2021, following a meeting with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, President Irfaan Ali committed the Government’s payment of $100M in advance taxes to City Hall to support maintenance to City Hall and its adjacent buildings.
Narine said no timeline has been given and his letter to the President on May 14, 2021, requesting an update on the same has gone unanswered.
Part of what Narine wrote to the President stated: “The restoration is one which can no longer be delayed and every day that passes makes it more critical as the windows and parts of the roof continue to fall apart. Your Excellency, I am taking this opportunity to invite you at a date and time convenient to you to pay a visit and have a walkthrough of the building and see the conditions we are dwelling under for yourself.”
Narine told the newspaper: “The President made it very clear that he will pass down his instructions to the Minister of Local Government and the President promised these things but it has to come through the Minister of Local Government…but the problem lies with Dharamlall.”
Apart from insufficient communication, the Georgetown Mayor said that there is a lack of project consultation from the Ministry’s end which has led to the mismanagement of resources. A recent case he referenced is the 10 million allocation by the Ministry to fix only three to four stall roofs at the East Ruimveldt Market.
Narine said that he understands that his political views and that of the Government do not align but he has no issues working with the Government of the day as it is the people of Guyana that must come first.
Should such a disconnect continue, he predicted that the capital city will be crippled and the citizens of Guyana will feel the sting — a risk he doesn’t take lightly. Asked who he believes should bear responsibility in such a case, Narine said he believes that though the blame would lie at the feet of the withholders it is also the responsibility of citizens to demand better from their leaders. He said: “I would hold accountable the people of the city and, secondly, the President because he [Dharamlall] works for the President and the President appointed him. So those two should hold Dharamlall accountable…the people must pay keen attention to his actions towards the City Council.”