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As a result of the recent incident in Georgetown involving Mayor Ubraj Narine, sections of the media and populace have blamed the generally unhappy state of the Capital City on the Mayor and Councillors of Georgetown. It is not my want to either defend or assail anyone but briefly set out below facts, which have militated against the good governance and qualitative service that the Citizens of Georgetown and by extension Guyanese are entitled to. The base of the problems is a political infection which disallows Central Government to give the major and largest Municipality in our country an opportunity to succeed.
Briefly below, I present some facts:-
- When the PPP acceded to office in 1992, they targeted the Mayor, the late Compton Young and Councillors for ridicule and abuse. Mayor Compton Young, a decent, religious person, unable to deal with this torture along with other Councilors resigned in disgust.
- The Government installed a hand-picked Interim Management Committee headed by Dr. James Rose for scheduled Municipal Elections for Georgetown. Come 1994, the Government poured substantial sums and managerial skills,with obvious intent to boost the image of a PPP IMC in preparation for the upcoming Elections for Georgetown
- The Municipal Elections of Georgetown gave the following results, PPP-8 seats,PNC – 10 seats and the GGG – 12 seats.
- Before the Chairman of the IMC, Dr. James Rose demitted office, the IMC stated publicly that to provide a satisfactory service even beyond the generosity of the Government, the Municipality needed to broaden its revenue base.I accepted the wisdom of the PPP IMC that the Council needed to broaden its revenue base to provide a satisfactory service. After discussions with the Late Haslyn Parris and others, the establishment of a Lottery was deemed feasible for assistance with funding the municipality.
5 The implementation of a Lottery required the permission of the Central Government. A delegation which included the Late Philomena Sahoye-Shury and Robert Williams, met with the then Head of State seeking permission to engage an International Company to help set up a Lottery. We were told that the Government (PPP) could not agree since, “… The religious community will be up in arms.” Within a few months of that rejection, a Lottery controlled by the Government became a fact of life and the profit was not shared with the Municipal Council.
- This frustration had now become the norm. In yet another example, renowned Guyanese international Artiste, Eddy Grant made a proposal to utilise the area surrounding the Luckhoo Swimming Pool for a modern Cultural Commercial Centre. Even as the Council was considering this attractive proposal, I was called by the President and was advised not to proceed with such a project because the Government had something bigger in mind. That bigger project became, the Marriott Hotel. The sad, sorry saga and secrecy is of course another matter.
- Next, several Commissions were established and recommendations were made to improve the management of the City. Among those were the Liburd Commission, Sandra Jones Commission, etc. The response to these concerns and recommendations were all by ministerial interference.
- A renowned Town Planner, Professor Akbar Khan with the support of the Government came to Georgetown, and as a result, following discussions with the private and public sectors, produced a report for the re-development of Georgetown. For brevity this letter, addresseddealing with Parking, use of Demerara River front Lands, etc. Instead of supporting what can be considered excellentrecommendations, the Government, as in the case of Upper Water Street area, disposed of some of the lands identified for specific purposes to friends in the private sector.
- Because of difficulties of some senior staff and the need for intimate involvement of citizens, I proposed the establishment of a Warden Corps. Thirty (30) persons were identified, interviewed and trained. The idea was to get each Warden with a Councillor attached to each of the thirty (30) areas to liaise with citizens, engineering, health and other departments of the Council in collaboration with the relevant Government Agencies and Private Sector entities. Here again with Ministerial interference the Warden Corps was diluted.
- A Bicycle Patrol was also introduced and experts from the Miami Dade County came to train Constabulary Ranks on the use of these cycles.
- A further hindrance is where the Minister of Local Government (as there was no Local Government established) sought to identify the Chief Executive Officer (Town Clerk) who related directly to the Minister and was allowed to ignore the Mayor with impunity. I believe this is still the present case.And of course, there there is the traditional situation, where the Central Government feels compelled to makedecisions without the facade or pretense of involving the Council which ultimately has the responsibility for the management of the City.
The above represents just a few examples. I have avoided the tedium of other examples and instances except to say that in so far as vending in the wrong places are of concern and we can all accept the need for orderliness and safety, many questions can be asked about the timeliness and approach to this ongoing problem. Why wait until Christmas in Guyana to dislodge and dislocate vendors knowing the sensitivity of the season and the opportunities that that many use to invest with anticipation of returns? The vending issue should be an ongoing process, involving security forces and the Municipality.
Elsewhere, I pointed to the dangerous situation where a Government feels it is their right, some will say, their God-given right to ignore Institutions established under law to deal with matters. The impression I get, is this Government is convinced that they are the source of all knowledge, all wisdom and can ignore everyone else, particularly now that they have access to vast sums of money and as I noted elsewhere “to fill your stomachs, blunt your minds and destroy your creativity,” effectively making many of us minions and not men.