Guyana: Local Government: A Pandit, a Pastor and a rotten system

A pandit, a pastor and a rotten system

Leonard Gildarie

I should say that nothing can surprise me anymore. The media business is designed to do exactly that, but you learn after a while to deal with it. Yet it appears more and more that quite a few headlines have served up a curve ball that would stagger you.

Before this past week, I knew nothing of Pandit Ubraj Narine. Kaieteur News reported then that he was a front-runner to be elected mayor. I thought that would have been a tough sell.

We are talking here about Georgetown, the capital city, a stronghold of the People’s National Congress Reform. Yet on Friday, Pandit Narine was sworn in.                 

The apple cart has been upturned. The world has gone mad. A Pandit, nay…a man of East Indian-descent is now the chief citizen of the capital city.

The new mayor has his work cut out for him. Oh boy, does he know?

I like the move…if it is a strategic decision by A Partnership For National Unity, then I am sitting up and taking notice.

Georgetown is not just another town. It is the capital city.

It is the seat of the Government and where thousands, including visitors, would gravitate to, to either, conduct business, work or hangout.

For decades we had to make do with a dirty city, where robbers lurked at the bus parks and garbage clogged the drains and vendors and minibuses jostled for space in the critical Stabroek area.

When Patricia Chase-Green, a seasoned campaigner with tons of experience at City Hall was sworn in, there was a feeling that the status quo of a corrupt office would be changed. A woman was in charge now.

Prior to that, the Coalition Administration had hit the ground running on cleaning up the city. Many of the city roads were in bad shape. They have been paved and speed bumps installed.

Attempts were made to regularize the parking situation of minibuses and taxis around the Stabroek Market area. However, the problem has been shifted to the Ashmin’s square, with the robbers now gravitating there.
So yes, things have improved, thanks not so much to City Hall.

The Central Government had to step in last year to pay contractors, who dealt with waste collection, their outstanding payments.

At the time of writing, contractors have again reportedly pulled their services. It appears that the administration is not too keen to dole out any bailout monies until the new council can assess the situation.

What we found at City Hall, thanks to a report from a Commission of Inquiry released this past week, is deeply alarming but not surprising.

It was common knowledge that lots of ‘runnings’ were happening.

The CoI found grounds to terminate embattled Town Clerk, Royston King, and institute criminal proceedings against him, Kaieteur News reported yesterday.

The report obtained by Kaieteur News recommended that several senior officers be terminated for their poor management of the affairs of the city, and that where irregularities are found, criminal investigation and charges be laid against defaulting officers.

The COI also recommended that there be further investigations in the form of a forensic audit to be conducted by the Audit Office.

King is cited for gross misconduct, abuse of office, recklessness, dishonesty, conspiracy, and misappropriation of funds.

Also listed in the report are Acting Town Clerk, Sharon Harry-Munroe, who is cited for dereliction of duty and incompetence; Assistant Town Clerk, Sherry Jerrick for dereliction of duty and incompetence; Internal Auditor, Omodele Umojo-Newton for incompetence and conspiracy; Chief Constable, Andrew Foo for dereliction of duty and incompetence; Human Resources Manager, Paulette Braithwaite for incompetence; City Engineer, Colvern Venture for incompetence and dereliction of duty; and Rashid Kellman for conspiracy.

As it relates to King, the CoI report stated that while it is ‘the easiest of recommendation to make’, he should be terminated, and criminal charges should be laid against him in respect of his actions.

The report recommends that the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Guyana Police Force should lead a joint probe to ascertain the relevant criminal charge(s) to be laid.

In the alternative, the report noted that there are civil remedies; the Local Government Commission can approach the Court to grant orders to trace his assets and at the same time, freeze same.
The CoI found that the son of the mayor benefitted from contracts.

These are not flimsy findings. There is an arrogance that seeped from officials that was sickening, and it flowed right down to the market constables.

Yes, we have heard stories of shakedown of vendors. We know stories of persons who testified and who were transferred to the backlands.

Times have changed, and our public officials who don’t understand this, have no place in politics.
But if you believe that it was only City Hall that has been guilty of waste, corruption, cronyism and all other wrongdoing under the sun, you have another thing coming.

There have been stories of townships in Berbice especially, and at the Regional Democratic Councils, which mirror the situation at City Hall.

We can tell of reports made of the RDCs cleaning the drains of a certain supporter of the party and leaving the man next door.

We can tell of contracts being rigged to favour a few friends.

The townships and RDCs and quite a few Neighbourhood Democratic Councils have wielded political power to enrich the councillors.

At Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast, a pastor was sworn in as the new mayor.

A pandit and a pastor – tantalizing for the editors who would wonder how the opening prayers for the statutory meetings would go.

For me, I am more convinced that there is a shift of thinking in our people.
There is a very public backlash for actions of politicians at this time.

Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence made some unfortunate statements during an internal party meeting. It is a fact that all parties do the same…they pander to their supporters. It so happens this one came out.

We have a pandit and pastor in charge of two key communities – one in the city and one on the Essequibo coast. My advice to them is to be careful. It goes beyond the warnings of former mayor. Chase-Green who reportedly told Narine to beware of the many “wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

The new mayors have the responsibilities of turning the city and their communities around. It will take tough, unpopular, non-partisan decisions at this time.
A religious upbringing can only lend to the arsenal of power the mayor possesses.

It will be no easy task, Mayors. Your actions will be held to scrutiny.
We expect you to take it all in stride and pull out the stops that will reverse the bad taste that has been left in our mouths.

Your employer, the people of Guyana, want no excuses. We are tired of them.
We want our city and our country to be the best they can possibly be.

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