— but will not be used as scapegoat, says President
PRESIDENT, Dr. Irfaan Ali, on Tuesday, while reiterating his government’s commitment to the development of the City, has also made it clear that Central Government will not allow itself to be used as a ‘scapegoat’ by Major and City Council of Georgetown for mismanagement of the City.
“Let me be very clear, this government cares tremendously about our City, but we will not allow ourselves to be used as a scapegoat in the City not fulfilling its responsibility and mandate or in the City converting everything into political opportunism or a political football,” the President said.
President Ali made the remarks while responding to an allegation made by the Mayor of Georgetown, Ubraj Narine, in which he claimed that the President and government is starving the M&CC of resources.
The President made reference to a number of discrepancies which highlighted the M&CC’s mismanagement of the City and breach of laws while listing a number of initiatives Central Government has undertaken for the benefit of the citizens of Georgetown.
He quoted Section 177 of Chapter 28:01 of the Laws of Guyana, which states that the Council is required to prepare accounts yearly and submit same for audit, no later than four months after the end of the year. However, the Mayor and City Councillors of Georgetown have breached this provision and continue to do so.
The President explained that in 2004, in the last audited financial statement, a disclaimer of opinion was issued by the Auditor General – a disclaimer is where the information submitted cannot stand up to scrutiny, and again in 2005, a disclaimer opinion was issued.
From 2006 to 2011, no financial statements were submitted; during the period of 2012 to 2015 financial statements were submitted but the information required could not have allowed auditors to express an opinion; and no financial statements were submitted for the period 2016 to 2020. In 2021, a special audit into M&CC revealed similar discrepancies.
The President highlighted that following an investigation of the M&CC in 2019 – several discrepancies were revealed and reported to the Audit Office. Including but not limited to failure to remit workers National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions, failure to remit workers credit union contributions and failure to remit workers Guyana Revenue Authority Pay as You Earn (PAYE) deductions.
In addition, failure to effect payment of retirement benefits (gratuity) to a number of workers, issues surrounding the number of contracts in keeping with financial regulations, transparency, and accountability, waiver of rates and taxes, rental of wharf facilities and the granting of leases, were also reported.
“All of these were issues highlighted, where transparency, accountability and clear violations and breaches we found, yet, Central Government continues to transfer resources to the City,” the President said.
“But how long must we, as a people, and as a government allow this blatant disregard for transparency and accountability, this blatant disregard for the rules and laws governing the financial accountability of the Mayor and City Council? There must come a time when things will come to a head these things have to be fixed. We cannot continue this level of mismanagement,” he added.
On the other hand, the Head of State highlighted that while the City is not fulfilling its responsibility in the maintenance of the environment and of infrastructure in the City, the Central Government has embarked on a massive programme to clean the City and its thoroughfares, maintain drainage and invest to prevent flooding.
Central Government has also been engaging with communities, such as Sophia and Albouystown, to have small groups of community workers who will be able to take on minor works contracts to help with the cleaning of the City. A major project to tackle flooding in South Georgetown is also underway.
“But this is the responsibility of the City Council, and the City Council continues to fail the people of the City and every time they fail the people of the City, they try to pass the buck on or pass the burden on,” the President said while acknowledging that the initiatives undertaken by Central Government to help to clean the City are “necessary investments” because the “City reflects who we are as a country”.
He maintained that Central Government is desirous of “nothing short of an excellent relationship” with the M&CC; however, that relationship must not be tainted with the M&CC blaming the Central Government for the M&CC mismanagement of the City and one where Central Government must disregard the M&CC discrepancies and breach of laws, over the years.
“So, I just want to make it very, very clear, that we want a partnership for the development of the City, but we cannot allow the City Council to continue to blatantly disregard what is out there in terms of its reporting responsibility and in terms of its fiduciary responsibility,” the President said.
“Notwithstanding all of this, we are moving forward with a plan and programme to improve the welfare, well-being, living conditions, and standard of the people of the City and those who use the City and we are sparing no resources in achieving this,” he added.