THIS is a heady time in Guyana, when a new spirit of creativity and drive is beginning to suffuse all Guyanese life and society. All must move forward with it or one would be left behind on the margins while the fast-flowing current of development moves on. The Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has so far escaped that spirit and sits out in accustomed moribundity. The Le Repentir Cemetery continues to deteriorate into chaos, the drainage system of the city has become a flooding system, the piles of garbage everywhere have given the name “garbage city” to Georgetown, and the roads continue to break up into potholes. The complaints of the citizens leave City Hall deaf and unmoved. Citizens complain of those things which directly affect them, but not as many cry out against the corruption, which is less apparent than a garbage heap, but which is inextricably linked with it. In this article, we shall remind citizens of how illegalities and corruption are just as distressing and disastrous:
Recently, the courts rejected the M&TC “compliance certificate” scam. The Registrar of Deeds had prescribed that in the passing of transports, the filing papers should contain a certificate issued by City Hall ascertaining that tax payments on the property to be conveyed were up to date since filing the original receipt was inadmissible. The “compliance certificate” was no more than a copy of the receipt of payment and was a mere clerical activity. Instead, the M&CC quite illegally decided to convert this clerical certificate into a tax by charging .5 percent of the value of the property as the cost of the certificate. Georgetown properties are now valued at tens of millions of dollars and this means that the clerical certificate would now cost thousands of dollars! The Bar Association brought a successful action in the Courts who decided that the M&CC must drop its illegality.
Another corrupt practice the M&CC was attempting was to take over the Bel Air Park playground and give it to some of the members of the Council as house lots. The residents tried to reason with the M&CC that the playground was for recreational use and belonged to the community. But City Hall went ahead with surveys and even started to build. Some residents were constrained to bring an action to the courts which decided that the City Hall should desist from its illegality. The playground was saved.
A similar type of scam was attempted with the Lamaha Gardens playground, where a housing developer, in collusion with officers from M&CC, was claiming prescriptive rights of the playground. Fortunately, legal action was filed just in time, and the Lamaha Gardens playground was saved.
Recently, a company named Astrolabe Technology claimed that the M&CC on “1st October 2007, had entered into a contract permitting them to provide paid parking in a large part of the East Street reserve.” They were further authorised “to operate parking facilities in the Old Georgetown jurisdiction which boundaries are the seawall to the North, Independence Boulevard to the South, Irving Street to the East and Demerara River to the West”. This half-literate contract seemed to have been the work of some rogue elements in the M&CC.
On 14th November 2020, the Ministry of Public Works, acting in the interest of the citizens and of Law, removed the fence and gate of the illegal parking lot, and Astrolabe sued before the Courts and humiliatingly lost (Details of this scam are reported in the Guyana Chronicle of 2/02/2022).
M&CC has even tried their illegalities on the State itself! Some years ago, it tried to sell a piece of state land belonging to NICIL contiguous to the old Sprostons shipyard. The attempted illegal sale reached the Courts, and M&CC was ordered to desist from trying to sell land belonging to NICIL.
There are over one billion dollars of uncollected taxes outstanding, but the M&CC has been making no attempt to collect it or to effectuate execution sales to begin recovering this money. Some years ago, however, a well-appointed property in Brickdam belonging to an expatriate Guyanese fell into three years of tax arrears, and one of the senior members of the City Council was able to arrange an execution sale of the property and bought it for a tiny fraction of its value and when the owner returned shortly afterwards to settle his taxes. He found he had lost his property. The M&CC is making no effort to collect this billion dollars of outstanding taxes but is trying to increase the taxes of those who pay.
No one in the M&CC has been effectively disciplined or charged by the police for any of the corruption in that corporation, and it remains in stolid inactivity in executing its remit despite the untiring complaints of the citizens. It is only the central government that may be able to break this impasse. The Guyana Consumers Association has for years been advocating either the suspension of the M&CC for a number of years or its abolition and its replacement by a City Manager System, which had been successfully used in several American cities. The City Manager System is results-oriented and in a few years Georgetown would experience a renaissance and a Garden City befitting the capital of an oil-and-gas country would emerge.