Mayor Narine losing grip on City Hall
Mayor of Georgetown Pandit Ubraj Narine
Mayor of Georgetown Pandit Ubraj Narine

–left out of critical decision on $21M solid waste contract, claims concerns were ignored

IN an unexpected turn of events, the Mayor of Georgetown, Ubraj Narine has publicly disavowed responsibility for a $21 million solid waste management contract that was approved by the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC).

He made this declaration during a press conference on Friday, where he addressed a number of topics, including the costly contract.

Mayor Narine openly declared that the Council ignored his request for an additional review of the figure, and went ahead and endorsed the $21 million contract.

He further revealed that one company provided the exact estimate figure that the Council requested throughout the biding process.

Although they’d made plans to “examine” it, he asserted that for a number of reasons, he and Chairman of the Finance Committee, Oscar Clarke had to leave the country, and thus were not able to do so.

“I don’t know what [had] driven the Council to act in this manner,” Mayor Narine stated, addressing the costly figure.

According to the Mayor, when the town clerk delivered the document to him, the figures of which allegedly climbed from a previous $13 million to the current $21 million, he was unable to “study” it.

He also noted that the contract solely covers household waste, and provides for Constituencies 1 through 15.

Moreover, Mayor Narine disclosed that he will not be contesting the upcoming Local Government Elections, but will remain a member of his political party.

Despite the collection of rates and taxes, the M&CC, like all municipalities across the country, is given an annual subvention. While the other townships would get $18 million, City Hall is allotted $30 million.

However, Mayor Narine asserted that this subvention is insufficient, and the government should be giving the M&CC more.

Over the years, City Hall has developed a well-documented reputation for lack of accountability of its own funds, as well as the funds allocated by Central Government. Issues at the municipality have included lack of financial records, damage to financial documents, lack of contracts being issued for multimillion-dollar projects, lack of proper procurement practices, and lack of audits.

When audits are conducted, the Office of the Auditor General has often conveyed the difficulties encountered in ensuring proper spending of public funds by City Hall.

Additionally, from 2016–2019, City Hall was the beneficiary of an accumulated $1 billion from Central Government under the Georgetown Restoration Programme (GRP). Auditing of this fund has been a multi-year bugbear for the AG’s office.

Under the GRP, City Hall had received incremental disbursements of $300 million in 2015, $200 million in 2016, $200 million in 2018, and $300 million in 2019. The funds were disbursed by the now disbanded Ministry of Communities under the former APNU+AFC administration, which was in office from 2015 – 2020.

The money from the GRP was initially directly handed over to City Hall, but was later handled by that ministry after multiple reports of mismanagement. Several companies made allegations against City Hall of completing works for projects under this programme and never receiving their full payments, even though all the money under the programme was expended.

From the 2016 allocation, the M&CC could not produce any evidence accounting for some $70.489 million out of the $200 million given. Prior to that, in the 2015 allocation, there was no evidence of payments totalling $12.816M.

In November 2017, the APNU+AFC Cabinet also gave its approval for a grant of $475.635 million to be disbursed to M&CC through the abovementioned ministry. However, from these monies, the Auditor General was unable to verify the completeness, accuracy and validity of amounts totalling $374.545 million.

There is also no accountability for a 10-year gap in the financial accounts at City Hall.

As a result of this track record, earlier this year, Vice-President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo argued that the current administration of the M&CC does not have development as its focal point, but is in fact more preoccupied with the matter of politics.

City Hall is run by a 30-seat Council of which 21 are held by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R). Two seats are held by the Alliance For Change (AFC), and seven by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

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