The Mayor and City Council have once again been called out by citizens over their garbage collection system, or lack thereof. This time the call started on social media, as tired citizens called out the M&CC by posting photos of garbage pileup in sections of the city. On many occasions, to justify their inability to carry out their fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the city, the M&CC have consistently claimed that because of the lack of tax collection, they are unable to function expeditiously.
However, it seems like the M&CC have never grasped the fact that taxpayers expect authorities to provide them with quality services in return. That has always been the thrust of paying taxes. Further, it is their responsibility to ensure that they receive the type and quality of services they are paying for. To the disadvantage of the taxpayers of the city of Georgetown, there is hardly a way available to them to ensure that the M&CC keep their end of the bargain. This is unfair, since M&CC have legal recourse against delinquent taxpayers. If City Hall is able to impress residents generally, the latter would be disinclined to default on their payments.
As it stands right now, M&CC not only owe garbage collection contractors, but the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). As this publication has said over and over again, of great concern is the M&CC’s lack of payment to NIS. This means that M&CC have put the employees’ benefits and entitlements at risk because of missing contributions. Also, of great concern is: why did NIS tolerate M&CC’s unlawful act? Year after year, City Hall has come in for heavy criticism over the management of its finances.
Just in August, the Local Government and Regional Development Minister raised questions regarding accountability for the $300 million Restoration Fund which was contributed for the restoration of the dilapidated City Hall building. As this publication had previously pointed out, the iconic City Hall structure has become an eyesore, and it would be no surprise if it crumbles in the near future. The Georgetown municipality has been cash-strapped for many years – mostly linked to lack of transparency and mismanagement of funds.
This publication reported last year that, on his part, the Local Government Minister has accused City Hall of “gross incompetence and mismanagement”. According to the Minister, the only thing that has been done in a year, despite $65 million being provided to City Hall to construct the admin building, was a design review of the structure that ought to be built. He said that information would have to be provided on whether City Hall has expended those resources on other things, or whether the resources are being held in escrow. It could be recalled also that the M&CC and then the APNU+AFC Government had embarked on a massive city-wide clean-up campaign in Georgetown and its environs.
While these efforts produced fairly good results regarding the general appearance of the city and its environs, the political Opposition at the time (PPP) and other stakeholders had raised questions in relation to the contracts awarded to carry out the works. The general perception was that friends and party supporters were the main beneficiaries. However, in spite of concerns that were raised about accountability and transparency, no effort was made to provide clarity to the public in relation to the sums expended and the beneficiaries of the contracts.
Once records are submitted, the current audit may determine to what extent public funds are being expended in a transparent and efficient manner. It would also seek to examine the tax collecting system, to determine if the allegations of dishonesty, deficiency, and discrepancies have any merit.
The mere fact that M&CC see it fit on several occasions – with the past and present Government – to request millions of tax payers’ dollars as bailout from their financial woes is enough reason for the Administration to act in the public’s interest.
Perhaps a reason why the M&CC seem to think that they can always depend on Central Government for a bailout is because they are under no pressure to perform. The leniency that has been afforded the council must stop if there is to be any improvement at City Hall.