In the 1940s and 1950s, Georgetown was regarded as the Caribbean’s “Garden City”. This was before Mr. Forbes Burnham became the Mayor of Georgetown in 1959. He continued as Mayor until 1964, and officially was Mayor of Georgetown between 1964 and 1966, but had also become the Prime Minister, after the then Governor of Guyana did not invite the winner of the 1964 General Elections to form a Government.
Since Independence, Mr. Burnham’s party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), in one form or another, has been in charge of Georgetown.
The present form is APNU. Counting the years since independence means Georgetown has been under the PNC for 57 years. If we count the years when Forbes Burnham, as leader of the PNC, first became mayor, it has been 64 years that Georgetown has been under the PNC, no matter what disguise the party presents itself to voters.
In the span of the last 64 years, beautiful Georgetown has degenerated from being the Caribbean’s Garden City to the Caribbean’s “Garbage City”. One senior Government official from one of our sister Caricom countries, at lunch the other day, remarked how he could feel the excitement and the positive vibes in Guyana, the optimism that our country is moving rapidly to become the economic, social, cultural and political epicenter of Caricom. He, however, remarked, “But, man, you guys need to do something about Georgetown. Why is it so dirty?” We would be lying if we cannot admit to ourselves that we have heard this said by visitors over and over again: by our visiting relatives, and among ourselves. This is a regurgitating refrain among residents of Georgetown and visitors — both local and international.
This is the legacy of the one political party that has held hegemony in the City of Georgetown. Yet one of their mayors, Hamilton Green is always pontificating on how great he was as a mayor. They make promises that they never keep, and have no plan to regain the title of the Garden City of the Caribbean, or how transform our city into a modern metropolis. It is not merely that Georgetown is dirty and full of garbage, it is also that the city looks run-down. The pride of Georgetown and Guyana, a truly global icon in buildings, the Stabroek Market, is an eyesore. The iconic City Hall Building has been left in ruins. Central Government investments have been misused and unused. The USAID had to take back monies allocated to the City Council to rehabilitate the City Hall. The City and Mayor of Georgetown buildings have been left to fall apart.
The streets have been left in utter disrepair and while in the early years, the City Council tried to do some rehabilitation works, it has essentially abandoned any pretense of doing even basic repairs. Since 2020, not a single street has been redone by the City Council and the Mayor. These streets are being rehabilitated and reconstructed under a Central Government program. Street lights have to be repaired and new ones being installed under a Central Government program. Playgrounds are overgrown. The cemeteries in Georgetown are the proverbial “hell”.
City drains are almost disappearing. Where they still look like drains, they are overgrown and in desperate need of cleaning. The council has been sending some workers to do the minimal amount of work. By the time these workers, clad with sometimes cutlass and basic tools are finished, they make more mess than cleaning up. City sluices to the Demerara River are so silted up, many cannot open when there are heavy downpours. Pumps are often inoperable. The President, since 2021, has started a clean-up campaign that has helped a little. But the same spots where cleaning up occurred, become garbage-infested the next day. Not one day has the mayor or any member of the PNC leadership joined the cleaning-up campaign. We o have experienced the frequent suspension of garbage collection because the City of Georgetown fails to pay its bills. These are the reasons why when you “smell” rain coming, you know the city will be flooded.
There are areas that could be beautified and become tourist attractions for both local and international visitors. The Central Government has taken on this role. The seawall areas of Georgetown are being transformed into beautiful recreation and leisure area. Avenues and boulevards are being transformed by the Central Government, similarly, to allow more walking and relaxation to enjoy this beautiful city and create over 10,000 parking spaces. The National Park, Parade Ground, and others can be transformed to present opportunities for the children of the city to engage in sports, such as tennis, badminton, squash, basketball, football. But the Mayor and the present PNC-controlled City Council have no vision. Their vision for a transformed city is the stinking abattoir.
In 2018, the then Central Government hired a Canadian company at a cost of more than $300M to do a reassessment of property value with the intent to raise taxes. As they did with the parking meter fiasco, the PPP stopped them with a No-Confidence Motion in Parliament and then defeated them in the 2020 elections. Their wicked plan to increase property taxes is still on the agenda. While the PNC-controlled council has for more than 60 years tried to ensure degradation and regression, turning Garden City into the Garbage City, using Georgetown and its citizens to wage a war against a PPP government, the PPP itself has been trying to ensure transformation into a modern metropolis.
Georgetown needs a new beginning. We need an accountable and transparent City Council which will live-stream its meeting so that we can all see who is working for us and who is working against us. Citizens of Georgetown, let us take back our city.