The citizens are determined to make City Hall listen to them

By Norman Whittaker

The frequent outbursts of lack of financial resources by those at the helm of the Georgetown City Council are indeed clever attempts aimed at excusing themselves from culpability for the Council’s failure to provide the services it is required to deliver to citizens in return for the rates and taxes they pay.

Furthermore, there is an obvious lack of interest on the part of the Council in going after the huge debt of some citizens in respect of unpaid rates and taxes, estimated at some $ 22B, including accumulated interest as at 31.12.2016.

Consider if the Council made every possible effort and was able to recoup even 50% of that debt. To the contrary, even the amnesty offered to debtors does not attract the desired positive results which one would expect such offers to attract. This speaks volumes with respect to the proactiveness of the City Council’s Debt Recovery Unit. If this is not damaging enough to the image the Council projects as the largest municipality in our country; even that which is collected is poorly managed.

Those at the helm of the Council appear to be interested primarily in those matters and measures in which members have a personal interest, e.g., rates and taxes write-offs and generous settlements of debts of Comrades; contracting out services to relatives and friends, while scores of workers remain redundant or underutilized; instead of applying the competitive bidding process for procurement of goods and services.

The issue of increasing revenue base and so making more resources available to the Georgetown City Council cannot be considered independent of the present performance of the Council where issues of accountability are concerned.
Access to more resources must be based, inter alia, on service delivery and overall performance, including transparency and accountability for resources already at the disposal of Council. The latter’s present operations are shrouded in corruption, incompetence and arrogance.

Furthermore, one must be mindful about supporting any measure that introduces increased costs and brings more hardship to citizens, e.g. the proposed Parking Metre Project.

Many reports of vendors paying City Constables (the latter are not authorized to collect revenue) and no receipts being issued often go uninvestigated, while the Council has been losing millions perennially through corruption of some revenue collectors.

In short, it would appear that significant amounts of dollars of revenue collected by City Hall Officials from vendors do not find its way into the Council’s coffers.

A significant amount of market revenue collected is used to meet employment costs of the City Council and this includes scores of inactive and underutilized Council staff. Very little markets’ revenue is expended on maintaining or improving or expanding market infrastructure; or, what is even more desirable, providing additional market infrastructure and so address the roadside vending and concomitant sanitation and other environment challenges occasioned by illegal vending.

Quite apart from the revenue, which the Council has been able to source, the PPP/C Government did provide various forms of financial and other support to NDCs and Municipalities, as it sought to enable them to provide more services to the Local Authority Areas for which they had responsibility.

These took the form of subventions/grants etc. In the case of the City Council, the latter received $889M in financial and other support from 2007 to 2014 – an average of $111M per year.
– Subvention Grant from 2007 to 2013 – $ 20M x7 =  $140M
– Subvention Grant for 2014 – 22 Development Works and City Enhancement – 2007 to 2014, 727 including $500M Clean up GT ……… $889M

This is quite apart from a number of pickups, compactor trucks, 1100-gallons garbage bins etc. that handed over to the City Council over the same period of 2007-14.

A close examination of the City Council’s 2010 to 2017 Annual Budgets shows that the Council , in spite of the fact that it has only been collecting between 63% to 79% of Budgeted Revenue continues to  incur liabilities in order to complete as much of its current works as possible during those years ; thereby increasing its accrued expenses.
In other words, the Council’s annual budgets for the past six years continue to reflect a deficit. With increasing liabilities, it has been seeking additional sources of revenue as a matter of urgency; in the process breaching procurement procedures and avoiding the requirement of consultation with citizens to get their views and support for new initiatives/ projects.

Going after revenue (public funds) is understandable as the City Council could not provide the services the citizens require and expect without finances. Accounting to citizens for the Public Funds is also an obvious expectation and so also is Council’s engagements with citizens to provide information/updates with respect to the plans, expectations, and work in progress as per Council’s work programme.

Regrettably this did not happen in the case of the Parking Metre project. The City Council has not been listening to the voice of the people. In fact, the Council has not been availing itself to engage the people. The result has been a show of strength/the populace force by the citizens.

They are determined that they will make City Hall and the APNU+AFC Government listen to them and address their concerns.

Consultation, inclusiveness and accountability must replace the corruption, the incompetence and arrogance that has been so evident in the work of the Council; moreso, among the triumvirate of the Council, its Mayor, Head of Finance Committee and the Town Clerk.