For many years now the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown had been accused of every failure and administrative sin. The media, both electronic and print, have unceasingly accused City Hall officers of incompetence, corruption, negligence and every other failing. From time to time, reports have been made on the council; the last one being the Justice Kennard Report emanating from the Commission of Inquiry which was recently concluded. The Justice Kennard Report, like all those which preceded his, found little that was praiseworthy at City Hall.
This image of the council sharply contrasts with that of colonial times. The Town Council, in colonial times, was elected by an electorate of property holders and later by persons who paid rents for their dwellings. Those who put themselves forward to serve as councillors were well known and able professionals and businessmen of the ilk of LFS Burnham, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, and members of the DeFreitas family. Many of these councillors later served with distinction in national politics or in the major business firms in Guyana. Councillors received no salaries or allowances.
It must not be forgotten that in all the councils, a prominent undertaker always served and that may have been the reason that the Le Repentir Cemetery was never neglected. Among such memorable undertakers were Claude Merriman and George DeSebastiani.
The workers of the council were motivated and respected by the citizens. The administrative staff such as the Town Clerk, the City Treasurer and the City Engineer were qualified professionals. For example, former Town Clerk E.A. Adams was one of the best accountants in the country and his sons were among the most prominent lawyers. To be employed at the Town Hall was one of the most prestigious jobs in the country. So high was the reputation of the council that whenever they issued bonds, these were much sought after since the council was regarded as financially strong and reliable as the Central Government.
These town councils built a city which was long acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, The town was clean, well-drained and beautifully planted with various types of trees, some of them flowering like the flamboyant of old Camp Street which was caught in the paintings of Sharples. The Town Hall was always painted and its floors were polished and its auditorium was used as the town’s concert hall where there were Sunday afternoon classical concerts featuring Guyana’s best musicians.
As for the reasons why the council and the city collapsed into the now chaotic conditions, we shall not go since it is more profitable to consider how they could be renewed and help recapture the past glory. The prescription for achieving such renewal is many-faceted and voluminous. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to identifying six activities which are quickly achievable and which will change the image and performance of the council and its workforce.
The first is that the council, the workforce and the citizens must be educated to know that their city was once acclaimed as the most beautiful and well-kept in the Caribbean. We could regain the past we once had if we took focused and positive action. In other words, we should have the morale and the intelligence to know that we could achieve the renewal. In the second place, the Justice Kennard Report and the past reports, like the Burrowes Report, should be used as the agenda or more appropriately, the blueprint for action. In other words, a kind of 5-year development plan should be elicited from these reports and the council and its officers should begin to work on such a plan. The Ministry of Communities must be involved in this process.
Then, the financial administration of the city should be reviewed and a qualified specialist should be engaged to reorganize and reform the financial administration with the intention to make it more efficient and to make it impossible for any corrupt practice to take place. The outstanding taxes owed the city should be collected since this will end the city’s financial woes. In due course, the city will be re-valued.
The Friends of Georgetown Committee consisting of able, prominent and interested citizens should again be resuscitated. This committee was quite important in the past in providing the council with advisory guidance. Any new committee, to be successful, will have to be strictly apolitical. When the city of Georgetown was suddenly expanded as far as Turkeyen on the East Coast and Agricola on the East Bank, no administrative or technical support was provided and this partly accounts for the council’s failure. Citizens’ committees should be organized in the various districts; The Subryanville Committee could provide a good model since it has had some quite fine achievements since it was organized.
The City Engineer’s Department needs to be urgently and completely overhauled and modernized. The major reason why that department is dysfunctional in so many respects is that it is fundamentally a 19th- century office. Functioning as a 19th-century office opens the door to corruption and inefficiency. Until such time that the office is reformed, it must try to function more efficiently within its present parameters. One such efficiency that could be established is to have specific time frames for various activities such as reviewing and finalizing building plans.
And lastly, the constabulary should seek the help of the Guyana Police Force in reorganising itself. The council is no Augean Stables once work is started with a concerted effort in the areas outlined, a Renaissance of the City Council and the city of Georgetown would begin to materialise.