On Wednesday we reported on retired Major-General Norman McLean expressing his disquiet to Mayor Ubraj Narine over the state of Le Repentir Cemetery, which he described as having become a virtual dump. His concerns were documented in a letter of February 26th to Georgetown’s Chief Citizen, whom he informed that he and his relatives could no longer reach the cross streets to visit family graves because of the rubbish obstructing the area.
Mr McLean adverted to “old stoves, fridges and tons of garbage and bags” that had been discarded at the junction of the extension of Louisa Row and the last cross street before Sussex Street. “The entire cemetery is a garbage dump as the situation is being replicated everywhere,” he wrote, whilst also drawing attention to the fact that “graves are broken into, busted open [and are] sliding into canals and trenches.” If that were not enough, tombs and gravesites were no longer visible as trees had taken over the area.
It might be remarked that Georgetown has a poor record where maintaining cemeteries and graveyards is concerned, dating back to its beginnings, although there can be little doubt that however derelict previous authorities were in this regard, they are no competitors for their modern counterparts. In addition to that, of course, they did not have to contend with the fly-tippers who so deface all our settlements and not just burial grounds, or with fridges and modern stoves which hadn’t yet been invented.
Mayor Ubraj Narine told this newspaper that while he understands Mr McLean’s concerns, the |Mayor and City Council could not be blamed for everything that had gone on. He said that the Council had recently taken about five truck drivers to court after they were caught in flagrante disposing of garbage in Le Repentir. The current dumping, he further revealed, was being done by contractors hired by the Ministry of Works to clean the city, and that this had been aggravated by some citizens who seeing what was happening had decided to do the same.
Mr Narine also informed Stabroek News that since he had assumed the mayorship the Ceme-tery Road area had been cleaned and maintained, and that the fly-tipping was of recent vintage. Had the Council been advised of the kind of works agencies had hired contractors to undertake, he said, it would have given guidance. He added that officials could still meet with the Council or himself for advice on what they should do with the waste.
He went on to say that he had contacted Solid Waste Director Walter Narine in relation to the problem and had told him that an excavator was required to undertake the clean-up work, and that he would try to reach out in this regard. Team-work would be necessary, he observed, to get the area cleaned up.
This is all very well and good, but there is not a word here about contacting Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill with a complaint about contractors retained by his ministry dumping refuse in the cemetery in the course of a government project, no less. How can the Minister possibly justify contractors cleaning up one area of the city just to pollute another? Did his officials when allocating the duties not clarify with the principals how they proposed their workers should dispose of the rubbish? And if they were unsure themselves about what should be done with it, why did they not contact the Mayor & City Council at that point? At the very least the ministry has behaved irresponsibly.
And now the Mayor is talking as if the onus for clearing up the garbage rests with local government. In this instance, it shouldn’t. Since it is claimed that the primary damage has been done by people under contract to the Ministry of Works, then it is that institution which should make arrangements for it to be cleaned up. Don’t the powers-that-be in that ministry experience even a frisson of embarrassment to read about the Mayor implying he would have to try and borrow an excavator?
Then there is the matter of the overgrown bushes and trees in the cemetery, which Mr Ubraj Narine said would require a major intervention and would necessitate the assistance of government in order to do anything about it. We have been down this road several times before, as we have with the fly-tipping also, of course. Le Repentir is expensive to maintain in a pristine state, and other limitations aside, the City Council over the past few decades has never had enough funds in order to discharge its responsibilities in the way that it should.
Part of the reason for this (although not the whole reason), as explained by the late Mr Leon Rockliffe in letters to this newspaper, is a change in the law relating to parate execution, by which means unpaid rates had traditionally been recovered. This had happened in the Hoyte era, although for its own reasons the PPP/C had not reviewed the matter since it was not of a mind to provide more funding to the City Council, which politically speaking was anathema to it.
The toxic relationship between the M&CC and the government obtained for twenty-three years, as a consequence of which all kinds of aberrations occurred, and the perception was conveyed that the city was being punished for its political allegiances. Le Repentir too was a victim of the general neglect of Georgetown, although once in a while when the clamour became too deafening, the government would sweep in and weed and clean up the cemetery, typically prior to an election, although no one has at any time confronted the vandalism which has gone on there.
The Mayor made reference to an MoU with Muslim organisations to enhance their plot, and urged other religions to come on board to do the same, because modernising the cemetery will cost millions. At this stage, do not let us be too ambitious; let us do what is possible, namely keep Le Repentir garbage free, weeded, tidy and free of vandals. And it should be like this all the time, not once every few years.
And if government’s help is needed to achieve this, President Irfaan Ali should not refuse his administration’s co-operation, and should instruct Minister of Local Government Nigel Dharamlall to explore with the Mayor ways by which it could be accomplished, possibly involving Minister Robeson Benn in relation to the security aspect. This is not about politics, it is about decency and respect for those who have gone before us. The current state of the cemetery is a disgrace. Our forebears deserve not just to rest in peace, but in dignity.
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