The Mayor and City Council (M&CC) is once again asking Government for a bailout from its financial crises, saying that it has over $500 million in debts. The current status of the M&CC is hardly surprising as, over the years, this entity has always been cash-strapped and mismanaged.
As it is now, M&CC not only owes garbage collection contractors, but $400 million to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and over $20 million in retroactive salaries is owed to staffers of the City Constabulary. Of great concern is its lack of payment to NIS. This means that M&CC has 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 has previously pointed out, the iconic City Hall structure has become an eyesore, and it will 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 in August 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 will 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 cleanup 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.
Again, year after year there has been calls for a forensic audit to be carried out into the operations of City Hall. These calls continue to reverberate in the interest of transparency and accountability of public funds.
This publication has previously called and continue to call for such an audit as in addition to determining 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 sees it fit to be asking for millions of tax payers’ dollars so regularly to be used to bail it out from its financial woes is enough reason for the Administration to act in the public’s interest. The Government certainly cannot keep pumping tax dollars into the operations of City Hall without putting the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that public monies are accounted for.
Perhaps, a reason why the M&CC seem to think that it can always depend on Central Government for a bailout is because it is under no pressure to perform. The leniency that has been afforded the council must stop if there is to be any improvements at City Hall.