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Copyright ©2014 Parliament of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme

Hits: 4100 | Published Date: 14 Mar, 2013
| Speech delivered at: 39th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Mr Norman A. Whittaker, MP

Minister within the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. For a moment I travelled the nostalgic journey with the Hon. Mover of the motion as I, myself, sought to reminisce the way the city of Georgetown looked some years ago as compared with its present condition in the year 2013. 
While this motion seeks to underline the need for a number of positive changes and developments, including the need for better drainage systems within the Georgetown municipality, by collectively and continually addressing primarily the issues of garbage collection and disposal and de-silting of drains within the Georgetown municipality, and while the mover of the motion offers some recommendations on how this can be achieved, disappointingly the motion – I am speaking about the motion – excludes the responsible agency, the Georgetown municipality, which has statutory responsibility for managing the city. It is excluded from any of this accountability.
What the motion seeks to do, and I wish to draw attention to the WHEREAS Clause No. 4 which says, “And WHEREAS the Georgetown City Council is unable…” is it unable, unwilling or disinterested? I rather think it is the latter two. This omission is very material. The motion seeks to divert attention from those at the helm of the Council who must be held responsible for its continual failure to deliver the measure of quality and the frequency of services the municipality is mandated, by the existing legislation and by-laws, to deliver to the citizens whose rates and taxes they collect - not the Government; the City Council collects that.
The Resolved Clauses are premised, therefore, on some wrong assumptions, assumptions of miserly subventions. We are here talking about a body that is empowered by legislation to collect rates and taxes. We are talking about a body which, in spite of the rates and taxes it collects, is also empowered to collect additional revenues using other sources about which I shall speak.
The Resolved Clauses are premised, therefore, on some wrong assumptions of miserly subvention. What the motion would therefore have us resolve to do, I dare say, is inadequate and is misdirected. While I do not wish to belabour the issue of who is responsible, I do wish to posit that unless we determine the root or the proximate cause of the failings of the Georgetown City Council to maintain the Garden City image about which the Hon. Member refers and the aesthetic of the city, unless we determine the root proximate cause and deal with that, the curative measures we take will not bring the desired results. We would be swallowed up in the very garbage we are seeking to remove if we fail to see and to realise that the rundown state of our beautiful metropolis is rooted not in the inadequacy of resources, not in miserly subventions, but in other factors. I want to deal with those factors.
We need to examine these less we be merely placing plasters on wounds. My Friends, it is due primarily to a lack of political will at City Hall to deliver. That is the root cause of the problems that we face - the lack of political will at City Hall to deliver. Those who control the seat of power at City Hall are not concerned about the imperative to deliver. If you wish to return to office when Local Government Elections are held... Never mind the mountains; they came not about these elections. There is absolutely no interest at all on the part of many on the Council in remedying the many shortcomings and so improve the services they deliver. Their frequent outbursts about being starved for resources must be exposed for what they are; they are clever attempts at political posturing and machinations aimed at excusing themselves from culpability. That is what it is.
The Council, though it receives over 50% of collectables, is so satisfied that one can hardly find any evidence of any determined effort, programme or plan which sees them reaching out to the debtors. Captured here is $11 billion worth of rates and taxes of debts owed to the City Council which it wishes not to collect, but it shelters under the umbrella of inadequate resources. Captured here is a further $2 billion worth of debts owed by residential owners.   [Ms. Ally: What about the Government?]    The Government pays its debts every year. I ensure that that happens and Dr. Ashni Singh ensures that that happens. There is no debt recovery drive. There is no concerted effort to reach out to debtors. It is not like harkens in many NDCs and municipalities where councillors see their responsibility as being more than merely attending statutory meetings and where councillors reach out into the communities in small groups, not only to talk about debts, but to talk about works that they have done and works that they would wish to do if debtors will only pay. The Councillors do not have the confidence in the people. I guess that is the reason they prefer the shelter of the office.
There is little effort at re-classifying the many buildings that are still classified as being residential when, in fact, they should be commercial, whereas the City Council should be garnering more revenue. What I am emphasising here is that the raison d'être behind the City Council’s inability to deliver is due, in large measure, to the lack of will to go out there and collect what is its so that it can deliver more services.
There is approximately $13 billion on outstanding rates to be collected. Why is the City Council not collecting it? It wants the Government to take resources that should be doing other things, which should be spread across the ten Regions, to deal with that. There is an obvious lack of interest for whatever reasons. Even that which is collected is poorly managed.
Last year the City Council collected $1.8 billion. Out of $2.4 billion in collectables, it collected $1.8 billion. What did the Council do with it? One would think that a significant amount of this would have been used to deal with the issue of garbage, the issue of drainage, the issue of the markets, rundown buildings, and the issue of security. But to the contrary, a significant amount of this money is spent on employment costs – some 829 employees. Did you know that? Did you know that the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has on its payroll 829 employees? What do they do? That is the important thing.
There are 27 employees in a Roads Rehabilitation Division. Which roads do they build? Which roads do they rehabilitate? They are in a Road Rehabilitation Division. There are 78 of them in a Drainage Section. I did not write this. I did not print this. I can make copies available if you so need. There are 188 of them in the City Constabulary. Yet, many of the markets continue to be burglarised. There is a further 86 called Constabulary Security Guards.   [Lt. Col (Ret’d) Harmon: What is the source of your information?]    It is the Mayor and City Council Summary of Staff Position.   [Lt. Col (Ret’d) Harmon: Who created it?]     It came from City Hall.    [Ms. Ally: Who wrote it?]     It was the Town Clerk.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to go on. I am saying that a significant amount of the resources which the City Council garners, bearing in mind that it does not make enough effort to reach out there to collect more of, are spent in areas that do not provide the services that the people look forward to.
Expender controls are almost non-existent. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Burrowes Inquiry, the Raymond Gaskin Report, the Auditor General’s Report, controls…    [Mr. Trotman: Is that not why you hired the new Town Clerk?]      I will deal with you. Indeed, these Reports offer serious possibilities for improvement in the financial situation of the Council. Where there is a Council where the average attendance at meetings… Even that is a problem. The average attendance at statutory meetings for 2012 was 19 out of 30. These are the people responsible for managing the city and restoring it to the glorious days that we had.
Alas, nothing is encouraged or accepted by the Council unless the members have a personal vested interest.  Of the ten groups into which the Georgetown Municipality is divided, eight of the groups that are managed by private contractors do not have the kind of problems that the other two that are managed by the City Council have. We have discussed with them and encouraged them to do likewise with groups 7 and 8. That is to contract the services of groups 7 and 8, take responsibility and put their resources into the market areas and the public spaces. But we have been throwing water on duck’s back. They have refused to deal with that.
Where does the Council’s interest lie? This is where it lies: we continue to see staff loans and advances. It operates as through it is a commercial bank. That is a significant amount of the people’s money. There is the rental of trucks instead of fixing its own. Go to Princess Street. Take some time and go there and you will see over 50 trucks and other vehicles, many in the GLL and PNN series, are parked. They prefer to hire rather than to fix.
There is abuse of overtime. What is overtime spent doing? Councillors want to pay themselves 33.3% increase. Would you believe that? At a time when the Council is going through the financial crisis, which this motion would have us believe, when the Council is struggling, councillors want to pay themselves a 50% increase in stipends for 2013. I can assure you that that will not happen because we will not approve of it.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, I did not get the impression that this motion was a pro-City Council motion, but one that says that we all agree to clean up the city. It seems as if your argument is weighed in favour of being an anti-Council… I did not get the impression that the Hon. Member was saying that she is here standing in representation of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council. I think we all recognise that it has problems.
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, our proposed amendments give a clear indication that the root cause of the garbage problem we face in this city has very little to do with resources that the Council is starved of; it has to do with mismanagement. So I am indentifying specific areas of mismanagement and I am, in fact, positing to this body…
Mr. Speaker: That is accepted, but the Hon. Member also spoke about the perception and the view of citizens who feel that they have a right to litter. I think that has nothing to do with the City Council. It is just a malaise and a sense amongst the citizenry that they can throw anything out of a car window. She used a word to describe an area near here. Again, these are not City Council problems. I think it has to do with a mindset that has become endemic and pervasive.
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, my recommendations to the Council for downsizing and for merging…because at the Georgetown Mayor and City Council there is one employee for every 250 citizens. If you compare that ratio of employees to citizens in the New Amsterdam Municipality, in Linden Town and other municipalities, it is far lower.
Consulting with residents in the wards on annual subvention and budget estimates is something that we have been encouraging the Council to do. Again, for reasons unknown, this has proven very, very difficult for the Council. It is reflected, again, in its 2013 Estimates. What is happening at the level of the Council can best be described as haemorrhaging of scare resources. That is what is happening there.
While this motion speaks about the mandate of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council as set out in the Municipal and District Council’s Act, it limits this mandate to a few services such as refuse collection and disposal, and the concomitant consequences of poor delivery of these services. It blames it not on those who have responsibility for managing the affairs of the city, but it blames it on:
“…severe under-collection of taxes, rents, fees.”
Who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for severe under collection of taxes, rents and fees?
It also blames it on what is described as:
“…miserly subvention received from Central Government.”
The City Council gets the highest subvention of all municipalities. And quite apart from the subvention, there are additional resources that are made available in the form of trucks and enhancement programmes. There are lots of other forms of assistance.
The issue of increasing revenue base and making more resources available to the Council cannot be considered independent of the Council’s performance. Let us examine what we have and how it is being used.
Allocation of resources must be based on service delivery and on performance. We cannot just simply take resources and give to a body that has been mismanaging these resources without, at some point, examining the raison d’être behind the lack of performance and lack of delivery in terms of the resources that we make available.
The Georgetown City Council has proven itself unable, unwilling, or disinterested in carrying out the mandate as prescribed in the Municipal and District Councils Act. This is due, in large measure, to poor management, as I said, of scare resources.
Much of the interventions set out in the Resolved Clauses of this motion are already being implemented. The motion does not, in any way, refer to the several initiatives from the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. There have been a number of initiatives which saw a collective effort in working with the Council to address this issue but there is no reference to that in the motion itself. The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the Ministry of Agriculture though the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA), the Ministry of Public Works, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Health and the private sector are already on board in a joint effort with some private sector and the City Council to assist.
We have recognised and have moved well beyond mere lip service to give recognition to our belief in the need for partnership as we move forward. If revenue is the issue, let us talk about the resources we have provided the Council over the years, outside of subvention, and the rates of taxes we pay on Government property, and let us talk about the taxpayers’ money used to deliver many rescue packages to the Council. How often have we come to the Council’s aid and paid solid waste contractors? We have come to the Council’s aid and helped to clean the cemetery which it talks about a lot. We have come to the Council’s aid to provide trucks and garbage equipment.
Let us talk about available opportunities to the Council to realise additional revenue. It is not looking outside of that and we expect the Council to sustain all of these activities.
As a Government, Mr. Speaker, we have extended the support by way of a multisectoral stakeholders approach to garbage collection and disposal and to desilting of drains by providing human and material support to free the streets, the alleyways, the blocked drains and the trenches of garbage, heavy vegetation, and other encumbrances. We will continue to provide resources to keep the city clean. We could not do differently. We have an obligation to the citizens of our country. But, as I said earlier, we could not continue to commit funds to City Hall without demanding accountability for those funds.
The Council’s contracting process is not transparent. There is evidence of conflict of interest and due care is not exercised in securing the Council’s assets and revenue. It does not even have an assets register that can identify and describe the assets that it has.
Deviation from established and approved operational procedures, principles and norms is an attitude entrenched in many at City Hall who have responsibility for managing the affairs of the city. Add to this private sector’s reluctance to get directly involved. There is a lack of confidence and trust in the Council. The private sector is reluctant to get involved unless it is doing so through the Government. The private sector says that it pays its taxes and expects City Hall to use those taxes to deliver the services it is legally bound to deliver. It is willing to assist by getting its members who owe taxes to pay their debts. City Hall was asked to provide a list of the debtors. The private sector asked City Hall to do so about a month ago. It is yet to do so.
Mr. Speaker, it is my view that the present Council has outlived its usefulness. It has become an anachronism and is incapable of carrying out its duties. This mismanagement, incompetence and disinterest must not be allowed to continue. We must stop sheltering the leadership. The question is: how do we effect the required attitudinal changes? What corrective changes must be put in place?
The engagement of other stakeholders... As we expand our multisectoral stakeholders committee to provide oversight and to monitor the progress of our work and the restoration of the city of Georgetown, we must individually and collectively take responsibility for helping to realise the improvements we seek. We must reprimand those who persist in the old habits of dumping. We need to enhance public education and awareness in the homes, schools, churches, mandirs, mosques and public spaces. We include the councillors and staff at City Hall. We must intensify our united efforts to conclude and to bring tougher laws to effectively reduce the incidence of littering and dumping of garbage. An example is the new legislation, the Solid Waste Management Bill. The expectation is that when this Bill comes here, Members will expeditiously support it so that it can be assented to by His Excellency to rescue and restore our capital to what it was three decades or more ago.
Mr. Speaker, whilst the intent of the motion is understood, I remind this House that unless we deal with the root of the problem, we are merely putting plasters on wounds and that is what the motion, as it is, is doing. Therefore, I would ask that the amendments, which are going to be proposed a little later on, are approved by you and accepted by the Opposition so that we can move forward.
Every one of us must pay more than lip service towards making our city a clean one in which to live – one that we can be proud of – but we need to address the root and the root is at City Hall.
Thank you. [Applause]

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