Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Warring, listless Council leaves Georgetown broke, messy and workers unpaid.

City Hall

A laminated photo of St Vincent and the Grenadines hangs on the beautiful lacquered walls in Council Chambers of City Hall. You would think someone has aspirations to make Georgetown as beautiful one day; but not this Mayor and City Council.
It’s the regular statutory meeting. You’d think that they would be in a race against time to fix all that is messy about the city, and so they’d get there on time and get about the business for the day.
But maybe they work with the clock hanging on the wall –it is set 45 minutes behind the actual time.
The 30-member council was elected in 1994, and some of the Councilors actually seem clueless about why they are councilors.
Well, some of them even refuse to speak. Take Rudolph Ross, who represents the governing PPP, for example. He has major issues with the print and electronic media and when approached gets into an early rant about the “distortions” President Bharrat Jagdeo talks about as his reason for not wanting to answer any questions posed by the media.
Asked to name one of these distortions, he says there are many, but fails to identify one.
But he is willing enough to say he has been a Councilor for the past three years while he shuffles through some papers. He doesn’t say anything for the first two hours of the Council and is often in a daze.
Businessman Zaman Ali has sat in the chambers for the past 17 years. He represents the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), but he isn’t a member of the PNC. He was asked by PNC leader Desmond Hoyte to take up the seat and agreed.
As far as Ali is concerned, he is meant to attend meetings of the Council and “keep abreast with what’s happening in the city.” He says he collects $45,000 every month for doing that, but he hasn’t received it for the month of May yet.
He chuckles about it. But for the workers who have not collected their May salaries, it is no laughing matter.
There has been the argument before that the Council needs to slash its workforce, and the City Treasurer, Andrew Meredith, could have well hand this in mind when he told the Council that the wages bill needs to be cut immediately.
At the end of April, the Council’s liabilities stood at $988 million, of which $600 million is owed to the power company.
Currently, the Council has only been able to pay half of its workers for the month of May and the City Treasurer doesn’t know how he would be able to balance things to ensure essential services in the city are kept functioning and find money to pay the workers.
An estimated $120 million is owed to the Guyana Revenue Authority and the National Insurance Scheme.
Councilor Junior Garrett wants to know how much is owed to the telephone company, but he is not sure he will get that from the Council.
“I know I wouldn’t get it from the Council, but I can get it from GT&T!” he declares.
The Mayor, who is chairman of the Council, first starts off with a review of the minutes of previous meetings of the Council – and the war begins, and for the silliest of things.
First, there is no one to take notes. Some argue that the meeting can’t begin even as the Town Clerk, Yonette Pluck-Cort says she will take the minutes until the person she has designated arrives.
The person she designated apparently did not get there on time, and Town Clerk indicated she had asked her Deputy, Sharon Harry, to take the notes. But Harry wasn’t there on time and the Town Clerk said she will take the minutes in the meantime.
The Deputy Town Clerk walks in and sucks her teeth when she realizes the discussion on the floor is about her.
Councilor Patricia Greene stands up in a heated outburst that an advertisement should have been placed for a Confidential Secretary and a Recording Clerk. But only one application came, which was rejected, and Greene insisted the position should have been advertised again and that the Town Clerk should not pick her “family and friends” to place in the positions as she deems fit.
Greene is quickly upbraided by the Mayor for making statements that could be seen as not being credible and he was directing that if statements have to be made by Councilors that they do so in writing.
Another Councilor, Gwen McGowan, stood up to say that since the session was being recorded, there should be no need for Counillors to have to make statements in writing.
The Mayor did not agree, and insists he should not be dictated to. As the debate is prolonged, Green says he would not allow the meeting to be deteriorate (as some observers make a mockery of the fact that he was having a hard time pronouncing “deteriorate”).
As the meeting continues, the Town Clerk announces that in light of the difficulty in paying salaries, officers of the Council and some interested organisations will hold a retreat to come up with some proposals on the way forward.
A heated debate then ensues about why the Town Clerk is having a retreat without the approval of the Council.
The Mayor is ignoring hands in the air for further clarification on the issue as he announces that he would be leaving early to attend the funeral of the mother of a receptionist – whose name he can’t remember.
He says he has sent a sympathy card of his own but that the administration of the Council should send its own sympathy card. He then goes on to talk about a series of persons and oganisations that have calling.
As he goes through his list of announcement, some councilors are busy wondering when he would be done so they could get back to the matter of the retreat.
The Mayor says he would like to be at the retreat, but would be out of the country. His being out of the country doesn’t surprise anyone, given the frequency with which he travels.
The Town Clerk leaves at the middle of the meeting and some Councilors wonder why she hasn’t informed anyone. Her Deputy gets into her seat.
Councilor Patricia Greene is furious about the way the Council functions and she declares that she would prefer President Jagdeo disband the Council if the problems cannot be fixed.
The Mayor is ready to leave for the funeral and asks for someone to sit in his chair. Someone asks for Oscar Clark, but he declines.
Llewellyn John accepts, and the meeting continues with the ramblings over why the budget, which was presented to the Minister, could not be returned to the Council for approval.
It’s the middle of the year, and the city’s budget is yet to be passed; it is struggling to pay workers, and the garbage collectors could soon down tools if they are not paid.

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