Guyana: The Minister of Local Government and Georgetown

Georgetown Christmas flood – 2014 – Stabroek News video

The Minister of Local CGovernment and Georgetown

Now Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker – sensibly, it must be admitted – has had nothing to say on this development, but as it was, his instinct for garrulity had already found its natural outlet the day before the rain made its unwelcome visitation. There he was, snug and smug in his office (which is way above the water line), at his end-of-year press conference, extolling all the work his ministry had done during 2014.

Aside from the ‘Clean up my Country’ campaign, which, it should be noted, while improving the environment in a general sense, has done very little for the city’s drainage, it is hard to know what Georgetowners should celebrate in terms of the work of the ministry this year. As far as next year is concerned, Mr Whittaker was reported as saying that they would be intensifying their investigations into buildings constructed on government reserves as well as the parking of trucks on the roads. In addition, he told a less than spellbound media corps, they would be looking at noise and odour nuisance with the aim of reducing it. There was not a word about drainage.

That omission aside, did he not know that Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee had committed himself to tackling noise nuisance some years ago, and that he made very little progress in reducing it? Considering that the Minister of Local Government does not have the resources at his disposal that Mr Rohee has, what makes him think that the citizens of this nation expect him to do any better than his colleague?

Then according to reports Mr Whittaker said that his ministry had channelled a lot of funding into developing and maintaining “market spaces and tarmacs.” All well and good, but in the meantime Kitty Market has become a danger zone, Bourda Market is a health hazard every time it rains because it floods so badly, and Stabroek Market looks decrepit at the front and is dilapidated at the back. In October contracts were signed for work to be done on three city markets under the ‘Clean up my country’ initiative, one of which was for the desilting of internal drains at Bourda. Has this work not been embarked on as yet? Or was it done and Bourda still flooded the following day? The citizenry would really like to know.

And as for poor Kitty Market, which was not included in the original contracts, the Minister said at the time the nature of the repairs was not manageable for the project. So is it just to be allowed to disintegrate without any intervention from government? There was nothing in the reports on the Minister’s end of year briefing to suggest that he had anything to say about this; nary a word.

Then the captive media corps heard about his ministry’s budget for 2014 surpassing the one for the previous year. All that can be said on this subject is that it hasn’t made any impact on the state of the city; while the ‘Clean up…’ campaign has had an impact on the environment (although for how long, no one knows), the funding for that did not come from local government.

What one wants to hear is that Mr Whittaker has persuaded his cabinet colleagues that serious work should be undertaken on Georgetown’s drainage infrastructure; they don’t even have to start from scratch, since there are enough reports from the experts who came down here as a consequence of the 2005 flood. It is not something, however, that can be done under the auspices of the Local Government Ministry; it would have to be under the Ministry of Works, which like the government as a whole gives the impression of being allergic to Georgetown.

Except for cases of unusual precipitation, the capital should not flood every time it rains – certainly not after a couple of hours. And if there is flooding because the kokers are closed, for example, the water should drain off from all parts of the city very quickly once they are open again (and in those parts served by pumps, whether the tide is in or out should not be an issue). This is a hydraulic society, and keeping ourselves for the most part high and dry has been our stock in trade not for years or even decades, but for centuries.

Previous disasters in times gone by have led to responses to prevent a repetition, so what is the matter with the present authorities? Are they less resourceful, less competent, less ingenious and less visionary, or is it simply that they are totally lacking in common-or-garden management skills? The run-of-the-mill flooding we are experiencing at present is eminently capable of solution, so why won’t the government solve the problem?

The obvious hypothesis is that they don’t want to solve it. Evidence in favour of that theory comes in the shape of the irrepressible Ms Carol Sooba, acting Town Clerk, who has eccentric tastes in personal security and obstinate ones when it comes to the matter of organizing essential works for the capital. There are no indications whatever that she is pleading a case for rehabilitating the city drainage in the hallowed halls of the Minister of Local Government; in fact, no one is too sure what she does, other than involve herself in wrangles over the etiquette of statutory meetings. And yet, the Minister has put his faith in her and she is directly answerable to him, so citizens are hardly likely to conclude that the government has any interest whatsoever in improving the quality of their lives.

Of course, traditionally the government has always sought to blame the Mayor and City Council for the ongoing fiasco which is Georgetown; it is all part of a political game. The problem is that the capital’s residents ‘done play’ a long time ago. Everyone is tired of it and no one is fooled by it. The financial resources lie with the government and some of the skills lie with the government – or at least within the government’s power to hire – so why won’t they do something about keeping GT more dry than wet in the rainy season?

There is one other thing not directly connected to the flooding. During the year government announced some funding to undertake preliminary salvage work on City Hall. That at least was an eminently positive move. But it is not clear whether work of any kind has yet started. Unless they want to earn the reputation of being the last word in philistinism, Ms Sooba and her bosses should put a great deal more energy into trying to save the Georgetown’s premier heritage structure; the city’s residents will not forgive them if they don’t. In addition to that, Ms Sooba could not possibly want the building collapsing on her new sofa.

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  • de castro  On 12/29/2014 at 4:45 am

    SHAME….disgraceful !
    Garbage city….Land of many ¿


  • Cliff  On 12/29/2014 at 3:49 pm

    Have the Mayor and his Deputy removed immediately.

  • detow  On 12/29/2014 at 6:40 pm

    Cliff, you obviously have no idea of what is going on in Guyana nor how a city council should be run. In Guyana’s present environment, removing the Mayor and his deputy will have no effect on the decision of the central government and their lackeys in their wild attempt to marginalize any and everything that has the slightest hint of attachment to the PNC. This, of course, includes the populace of Georgetown which, in my view, will never,never lend their support to the PPP. So, my friend, Georgetown will be allowed to further deteriorate.That is the whole story right here in a nut shell. What really needs to be removed, permanently, is the PPP/C. Only then will Guyana obtain the much needed overseas investors and their dollars and expertise necessary to stop its rapid descent into failed statehood.

  • de castro  On 12/29/2014 at 7:03 pm

    Who is responsible for the collection/enforcing taxation on the city
    folks/businesses.? Local taxes is the responsibility of the mayor and his
    administrators …local government.
    General taxes is the responsibility of central government.
    No buck passing ‘please’ !
    If the mayor is unable to fund his projects he can either raise
    taxes or request help from central government.
    No ifs or buts ‘please’…
    However if the taxes collected is not spent effective/efficiently….
    (Wasted) the responsible parties must be called to question.

    When was the last local election for mayor held ?
    The answer to that question explains.

    The sooner local and national elections are held the better for
    the sufferings of the Guyanese residents.

  • de castro  On 12/29/2014 at 7:11 pm

    The only honest gift of politician to the electorate…
    The right to vote twice…once to elect him/her
    to be allowed to leave the country.

    The ways I sees it.!

  • detow  On 12/30/2014 at 2:48 pm

    I get your drift but that is only enabling the current government to remain in place and further screw Guyana, and to facilitate the continued brain drain. Guyanese need to look at the bigger picture with a view to removing the robbers of the treasury, and this includes any and all politicians who are paid as MPs but are really contributing nothing to solving Guyana’s woes. To have a non elected municipal organization in place trying its best to make do with the meager dollars they collect as rate and taxes, is nothing but a disgrace and a slap in the face of all who reside in Georgetown. Rather than trying to usurp the municipal government functions the central government ought to be looking at ways and means of ensuring that sufficient money is flowing to the local municipalities, enough for them to cover salaries, equipment purchase and maintenance, garbage pickup and disposal and infrastructure (roads, trenches, canals, etc.)repairs and improvement.

    The PPP’s reluctance to hold elections at all levels only goes to show that they are now dreadfully afraid of loosing power at all levels and will do whatever they feel they have to do to keep the status quo.

    There is no long term solution to Guyana’s problems and also no made-in-Guyana solution but something needs to be done, in one hell of a hurry, before China or Brazil gains a greater foothold. If left to its own devices Guyana will descend into failed statehood within the next two years.


    Just my thoughts as a non resident, but very concerned person of (British) Guyanese heritage.

  • gigi  On 12/30/2014 at 4:58 pm

    “The financial resources lie with the government and some of the skills lie with the government – or at least within the government’s power to hire – so why won’t they do something about keeping GT more dry than wet in the rainy season?”

    This may be so but the govt hands are tied when those in charge, whom it has no control over – the “elected” mayor and his cabal – are obstructing progress to push their personal agenda, which is to blame the PPP govt for all that ails G/T while covering up their incompetence and blatant thievery. And along comes their media operative helping them to pull the wool over the eyes of the Guyanese people. How daft can these folks possibly be to think that the Guyanese people are unaware of their shenanigans. Fix the problem and not the blame…and the problem is the incompetent PNC still in control of G/T. G/T is an existing microcosm of Guyana under PNC misrule…

  • detow  On 12/30/2014 at 5:56 pm

    gigi, I am really not interested in starting a political debate here as I do not really care weather the PPP or the PNC is the ruling party as they have both proven to the world of their incompetence as administrators of a very small population. The point that I was trying to get over is that Guyana has moved away from the norms of governance to the point that one cannot distinguish a distinct separation between the federal and municipal governments. And my observation that the PPP will never get the majority support of the people of Georgetown is a given fact, not conjecture.

    Because politics has been allowed to permeate the municipal level, the result is that all that goes on now are attempts by both major parties to make each other look bad to the point that they have seemingly forgotten that their main purpose in government (the ruling party and the opposition) should be the interest of the Guyanese people and not their own aggrandizement.

    To have the municipalities (all) function for many, many years beyond their mandate without the federals having facilitated new elections is a slap in the face of the people of Guyana and, in this specific discussion, the people of Georgetown.

    The PPP has taken the simplest definition of public policy to mean that whatever they chooses to do or not to do is acceptable. This definition recognizes that inaction may be considered a policy, providing that such inaction is the result of a deliberate decision rather that just an oversight. And herein lies the problem as they have obviously chosen not to have elections at the municipal level (their policy).

    And I agree with you that Georgetown is an existing microcosm of Guyana under PNC misrule but what does that say about the PPP’s ability as managers after having been in charge for over forty years. Will you continue to play the blame game into the next century or will you wake up and smell the roses. Guyana under PNC and PPP rule has deteriorated to the point that is now difficult to refer to it as a country rather than a cesspool with spots of large houses and incompetent administrators.

    • Thinker  On 12/31/2014 at 7:25 am

      When you see that Gigi has linked the mess of Georgetown to the presence of Blacks you know that it is a waste of time trying to be reasonable with a dye in the wool racist. She has obviously never travelled to India, to be able to come up with simplistic nonsense..

  • de castro  On 12/31/2014 at 9:22 am

    The blame game is alive and kicking….

    Its not my fault….just circumstances !
    Political impasse….

    Let’s have both local and national elections soon…then someone
    may accept responsibility for next 3/5 years.
    Or be removed… another election.
    Sooner the better.😴

  • bernard  On 12/31/2014 at 6:22 pm


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