A stubborn City Hall

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PRESIDENT David Granger’s address to the “mothers and fathers” of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council on Monday, 27th June at City Hall is worthy of study and application. It was a presentation that placed importance on transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the people. And though this address was to elected representatives of that local government organ, said should they be incorporated into every stratum of government and across the Local Democratic Organs, would aid in strengthening governance.In a society where concerns have been expressed about the lack of accountability and in that the President has addressed it, it is hoped that public officials, elected and appointed, should they violate the laws and transgress the rights of citizens, are held accountable in every case. Conversely, citizens should also be held to the same standards. For instance, to erect a structure without the city’s permission is illegal and applying accountability would see the offender subjected to the city’s bylaws.
The city, though not unique to it, has numerous cases where persons in privileged positions are allowed to encumber the parapets and determine who parks in front of their homes or business premises, which is a violation of the laws. The parapets of Georgetown, according to the law, belong to the City Council, and ownership of property exists only as outlined in a transport or lease.
Making accountability a central element of governance may require revisiting laws, including writing new laws or updating archaic ones. In the absence of doing so, commitment to hold public officials accountable will not achieve accountability. In similar manner, the city and society cannot continue having persons violating city laws and the penalty being infinitesimal.
Laws are put in place to regulate behaviour and ensure order. When penalties do not exist for those who violate the law, or if they are negligible, there is no deterrence to cause offenders to comply with the law and chaos ensues. These are the crossroads where Guyana stands in many instances of impropriety. It will be recalled that Professor Clive Thomas in responding to public concerns about the effectiveness of the State Assets Recovery Unit, has made known the need for laws to hold offenders accountable.
Returning to the affairs of Georgetown and the President’s address, it is felt that the issue that prompted his presentation is that of the parking meters debacle. Instructive too in this particular issue is that while the Council has certain responsibilities to the town and citizens, the policies that guide City Hall are vested in the minister, who has responsibility for local government. The Local Government Commission when put in place will have responsibility for employment, disputes and so forth, not for policies.
The Minister of Communities, Ronald , has said that he asked City Hall not to proceed in finalising the arrangement for the installation of the meters, while Cabinet has pronounced that it has commissioned an inquiry into the contract for the service. Having listened to the minister and announcement by , it is reasonable to expect that the City Council would suspend further activity on the matter until the inquiry has been conducted and the policymakers have pronounced.
The most recent information on the meters is that demonstrations are presently taking place in Georgetown on sensitising persons as to how they will function. This is clearly a case where the city fathers and mothers not only need education and training as to their roles and responsibilities, but also seem not to have taken the time to understand what is within their remit. The Council’s action to proceed on the meters issue is also communicating that the President’s address just went into one ear and exited the other. Recognising that Monday’s engagement emanated from the outcries of the citizens and some of the representatives on the council, given the response to the society by the Council thus far, it makes the point that City Hall has no regard for the concerns of the citizens or relational roles. The new Council’s conduct in a new dispensation, more particularly where local government elections were denied the people for more than two decades, is setting a troubling precedent. Outside of the subject, as a matter of law and order intervening in this disregard for directive and understanding/respect for the working of the system, there may be need to amend local government legislation to include recall and other sanctions.