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Ever since the discovery of oil, Guyanese have envisaged a better quality of life and indeed government officials have responded with transformational changes of the landscape. Subsequently, numerous Greenfield plots have been transformed into habitable environments which, to the uninitiated, is indicative of continued development.
However, those in the know, have condemned, not necessarily the initiative, but the methodology involved in these projects which they claim are, unstructured and chaotic. This transformation is primarily driven by the public sector investment programme (PSIP) which addresses public goods such as roads, sea defense, and parks, coupled with private capital, the sole purpose being the maximization of investments. Naturally, one would have supposed that government engineers would have considered several pertinent issues while keeping a keen eye on the political and financial objectives of these initiatives. Apparently, these technical professionals have engaged in a haphazard developmental strategy that has blatantly ignored the fundamental tenet of land use plans and zoning. It seems also that these planners, whether intentionally or otherwise, have failed to evaluate the offshoots and consequences of usurping the authority of local government bodies.
The capital city, Georgetown, is the seat of the central government, and all local government areas are adversely affected by the adumbrated issues. Though Guyana is a unitary state, the concept of local government allows for the devolution of power, specifically, transferring some authority to local bodies. Unfortunately, the current regime has rolled back some of the gains made under the local government framework. Instead of working to realize greater devolution of power and authority, the regime is obsessed with total control. The intrusion of Central Government through the Local Government Commission and the Ministry of Local Government has negatively affected the delivery of quality goods and services across local government areas. One glaring example is the fact that while being averse to increased rates and taxes to address improved services, the central government hypocritically chastises the M&CC for poor deliverance of these very services.
Georgetown, because of its natural beauty and opulence, was once dubbed ‘The Garden City.’ This is now a thing of the past as currently, this once pristine mass of land has been redubbed, ‘The Garbage City’ due to a litany of problems including poor waste management, unkempt parapets, poor burial service, poor drainage and irrigation, and inadequate public open spaces among others. Therefore, the objective of any government initiative ought to be the reclamation of that pristine title. The issues among government officials of the Local Government Ministry and those of the Mayor and City Council have made it almost impossible to achieve the aforementioned goal which is now a daunting task. The issue is further compounded by the lack of governmental support of the M&CC coupled with the laxity of the business sector in its civil duty of payment of relevant taxes.
Every other observer, except government officials, could detect the acrimonious relationship between the central government and the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) as the factor responsible for the degradation of the city. However, the Central Government stubbornly, nay unwisely, continues to demonstrate absolute disdain towards the M&CC, pointedly disrespecting its mandated functions. Naturally, such belligerence has resulted in poor deliverance of municipal services coupled with the arrogance of government officials to squarely lay the blame at the M&CC’s doorsteps.
There are statutes that have implications for local governance yet the roles under these laws are executed by other agencies hence making it difficult for local authorities to effectively govern. A case in point is the fact that the M&CC is hindered from effectively enforcing land use plan and zoning regulations because such functions are executed by the Central Housing and Planning Authority. Consequently, the absence of a current development plan for the city to guide the planning process has resulted in mixed land use in several wards. Further, the once peaceful and serene neighborhood of Queenstown has morphed into a commercial joint with a multiplicity of activities ranging from food vending to brothel services.
Such demeaning situations certainly do not bode well and point to a rabid political culture that manifests a dysfunctional system that places partisan/self-interest above collective interest. Another sordid reality is the unlawful precedent where privileged property owners are allowed to construct buildings in total defiance of the established criteria. The M&CC has the mandate to enforce the municipal act and by-laws but this entity is unable to address its functions due to the intrusive power and influence of the Central Government.
The frightening reality is that even the dead have not been spared of this calamitous situation; their final resting place, the Le Repentir Cemetery, is dotted with swamps, dense vegetation, and debris, all contesting for limited space, among the mortal remains and looks more like a bio-diversity park. Someone once quipped that “despite this sordid reality, many folks are still dying to get in there.” Seriously though, this situation is abominable, and no effort should be spared in the acquisition of land for a new cemetery within the boundaries of the city. The time is long overdue for officials of the Central Government and the M&CC to put aside their differences and urgently address this issue.
The challenges affecting local government issues are certainly not insurmountable and can be fleshed out through unity and compromise. Both entities, the M&CC, and the central Government must first aspire to join in harmony and demonstrate respect for the laws and a willingness to rise above partisan interest in the deliverance of quality service. The citizens are important stakeholders, and they must strongly emphasize a desire to have the relevant statutes enforced. Otherwise, we will have no other alternative but to dwell among the muck and grime while covering our respective noses!