IN the fortnight before Christmas, there was much stirring in local government circles. There are 10 municipalities in Guyana but except for Georgetown and New Amsterdam, the other eight are of recent birth. These were in effect the most important villages in the region and trade and commerce gravitated to them. Now that they have been elevated to townships, they have mayors and deputy mayors, elected Councils and formal administrations, all fashioned after Georgetown.
Some months ago, this column reviewed the new towns and suggested a number of activities which could make them more relevant to their citizens and to move into the path of greater growth and development. One of the important suggestions made which no one so far has considered is that all eight new towns should engage a city planner to plan the town and its growth and development just as Washington D.C. was planned in the 19th century by L’Enfant, or Brazilia was planned in the 20th century by Niemayer. Planned towns would grow into aesthetically beautiful and comfortable places to accommodate their citizens.
Among the main stirrings in local government circles last December was President Granger swearing in the mayors and deputy mayors and his charge to them. He charged them to serve their constituents irrespective of political affiliation and that in addition to offering municipal services, they must become agents of change, drivers of development and protectors of the environment. They should continuously revamp and retool their administrative systems to enable them to become engines of enterprise, agents of employment and engines of economic development. In all these activities, the municipalities must act in collaboration with the regional administration and the central government. President Granger was speaking in broad, all-encompassing terms and his charge was very relevant.
The mayors and elected councils have been complaining that the Municipal and District Councils Act 28:01 needs to be reformed since it impedes the work of the Councils in several ways. The councils do not have any executive power; as such, authority resides with the town clerk who is considered the chief executive officer or chief administrator and having the general responsibility of conducting the work of the council.
There are several other elements in Act 28:01 which need revising: for example, the fines which were set as various penalties were arrived at much over 40 years ago and bear little relevance to present realities. The building codes need to be updated. The taxes and rates cannot cover the expenditures of the councils and need to be revised and the financial systems need to be overhauled. In particular, taxes cannot be increased except serious effort is made to collect the tens of millions of dollars owed and the city treasurers cease to accumulate monies owned from year to year. Every three years local government elections are held, but the mayors are elected every year. All the mayors have been complaining that one year is too short a time for them to do any substantial planning and they all feel that the mayoral term should be for three years.
Mr Hamilton Green who had served as Mayor of Georgetown for over 20 years empathised with Mayor Narine who had complained about the town clerk and departmental heads such as the city engineer, the chief constable and the city treasurer act as though they are a law unto themselves, ignoring the councils and the needs of citizens.
In this regard, the Mayor of Georgetown Pandit Ubraj Narine lamented the non-performance in the city’s administration and their failure to serve the citizens. “Over the years,” lamented the mayor “numerous complaints have been coming forth against the Heads in the City Engineers and Constabulary Departments . . . and the Human Resources Department (HR) has done nothing to follow up these complaints.” The mayor, with justification, felt these officers were over-compensated. “They collect a hefty salary and a number of allowances including house allowance, free telephones and a mileage allowance when they drive to work . . . and if there is a delay in payment of salaries, their union would nail us to the cross without coming and seeing if these people are performing.”
The mayor pointed out that he and the councillors work harder than the staff; he, for instance, is at City Hall at eight o’clock in the morning and leaves eight or nine at night, which is far beyond the call of duty, but he has to be present to ensure that things are being done. He believes that mayors and councillors should receive proper salaries rather than stipends.
The functionality of the municipalities and local government as a whole needs to be reviewed and in particular, Act 28:01 needs to be reformed and this should be a priority after the national elections in March.