The Government has once again come to the aid of the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown.
The Government has once again come to the aid of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) with President Dr Irfaan Ali announcing the advance payment of $100 million in taxes to the cash-strapped Council. This is not the first time that Government has had to help the M&CC. Last year while drowning in a financial crisis, the M&CC went running to the Government for a bailout, flaunting its over $500 million in debt in its bid to seek monies from the national coffers. The financial status of the M&CC is hardly surprising, as, over the years, this entity has always been cash-strapped and mismanaged. As this newspaper has candidly said in the past, the M&CC not only owe garbage collection contractors, but the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). This publication has said, over and over again, of great concern is the M&CC’s lack of payment to NIS. This means that the 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 2020, 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. This publication has previously pointed out that, 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 A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government had embarked on a massive citywide 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 the M&CC sees it fit on several occasions – with the past and present Government – to request millions of taxpayers’ dollars as bailout from its financial woes is enough reason for the Administration to act in the public’s interest.
Perhaps a reason why the M&CC seems 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 improvement at City Hall.