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In Guyana, we are just a few days away from local government elections. Those elections have been fixed for 12th June 2023. All of a sudden, the government seems intensely interested in the upliftment and advancement of the wellbeing of local communities and neighbourhoods across the country. Citizens are not unaware that many communities are unhealthy and unsafe because the government has deliberately strangled the life out of them; the government has not been paying its taxes, on time, to many of these authorities. As of today, I have been informed that the government still owes the City Council, over one billion dollars, in taxes for its properties in the city. This is pure callousness and spite, on the part of the government.
However, one cannot decouple those impending local elections, and the governing party [PPP/C] campaign from certain frightening events that have occurred, over the last few weeks.
Perhaps, the tragedy that left us all incredibly stunned and numbed is the immolation of nineteen (19) precious young lives in an inferno, at Mahdia in Region 8, that was easily preventable. I deliberately used the word: “immolation” because, in reality, those lives were sacrificed at the altars of governmental carelessness, negligence, a lack of respect for basic safety standards, and bad and shambolic governance. Their lives were snuffed out because the government, in whose care their parents had entrusted their good keep, and safety, could not be particularly bothered about the condition of the cage-like dormitory, in which they were kept. This is in spite of previous official reports, including one from UNICEF, on the hazards presented by existing conditions, and the urgent need for counselling staff, at that dormitory. In a pitiful lackadaisical manner, which has come to characterise the governing style of the ruling party, those reports were left to gather dust. The government just sat on its hands and did absolutely nothing.
Although the country witnessed about six school fires, over the last three years, at the time of the fire at Mahdia, no one, no minister or government personnel, thought it fit or even necessary to read the reports or to implement a plan to prevent other schools and public places of learning from destruction by fire or other disasters- a worrying lapse in policy, and good judgement, on the part of the government. It remains a sad blot on our society that at a place of learning, the school at Mahdia, the government showed high ignorance and demonstrated serious incompetence in fulfilling one of its basic duties; to protect its citizens.
As yet, there appears to be no known public emergency disaster preparedness plan that can actually save lives in the event of a major disaster in any community. This lack of an emergency plan must be of great concern to every Guyanese because all of us are vulnerable to disasters, man- made or natural.
When one thinks that Guyana is an emerging oil giant, one must admit that, that conflagration was a shameful thing to have happened in this country; it should have never happened. The truth of the matter is that, if the government was unable to keep twenty (20) teen- age girls safe then how can it keep Guyana safe? It is very clear that the government cannot keep our country safe. And while some might argue that one swallow does not make a summer, the government at the very minimum has failed those girls, their parents and all of us. Imagine, with a population of less than one million people the government has failed, woefully, in its basic responsibility- to keep its people safe.
What is strikingly interesting is that, while the government is yet to appoint a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into this sorry incident, it is busy trying to advance a case for people to vote for its candidates at the upcoming local polls. Ministers and other agents of the government are trotting around the country bearing gifts, making empty promises, and rolling out emergency works to upgrade communities and change the negative conditions of different local authority areas.
These political antics by the government bring to the fore certain basic but fundamental questions: why should the ruling party wait until it gets control of those local areas to improve the environment and lives of residents? Why should anyone trust this government to turn things around, in a positive way, when for decades they, the PPP/C, refused to make the lives of citizens comfortable, particularly in areas that are considered strongholds of the opposition? Why should citizens believe the government that it will bring change to communities when with all the billions it could not keep twenty children, teen age girls safe?
The answer: no right- thinking person would believe the mouthing of the PPP/C. Whilst they appear, in communities, like the knight in shining armour most Guyanese are aware that the deliberate and consistent withholding of resources to local authorities is the cause of the ruinous condition of many communities. Most Guyanese also know that the PPP/C usually use three words: lack of accountability, as a ruse to starve local councils of much- needed resources. But who could be more nonaccountable and opaque than the incumbent? Therefore, the campaign by the PPP/C is, in effect and in fact, a dubious ploy to gain absolute political control of the entire country, including all and every local authority area. We must not facilitate their heist of our local communities. Otherwise, we, as a nation, would never rise to glory and prosperity.
The inferno at Mahdia signals the need for an emergency management plan to keep communities safe. All levels of government- local, regional and central- must be involved in emergency management. Local government has the first line of official public responsibility to develop and maintain a programme of emergency management to meet its responsibilities to provide for the protection and safety of the public. Therefore, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development must work with the private sector, stakeholders and citizens to develop an emergency plan and capabilities to respond to any natural or man- made hazard, which threatens the wellbeing of local communities. During an actual emergency, like the Mahdia fire, the Ministry must have the capacity to coordinate governmental and non- governmental forces.
Instead of taking the trouble to craft a comprehensive and well -coordinated emergency management plan, the Ministry of Local Government is being used to diminish those local authorities over which the government does not have control [ look at the way that they have decimated Georgetown through a systematic programme of denial] and to prop- up the ones which are aligned to its government. Unless and until the incumbent understands and accepts its responsibility to all Guyanese, our beloved country would continue to witness similar disasters like the one at Mahdia. Until the government accepts that we are One People, One Nation with One Destiny, progress and sustainable development would continue to elude us. And in the midst of abundance Guyana would remain poor.