Sunday editorial contained misrepresentations and distortions
Stabroek News letter. September 22, 2009.
The Government of Guyana has noted the editorial carried in the Sunday Stabroek of September 20 under the caption ‘Blackmail,’ and feels constrained to correct the misrepresentations and distortions contained therein.
Firstly, the editorial makes a deliberate attempt to distort the President’s comment on the option of an interim management committee (IMC) being installed by stating that “the President called a sudden press conference in which he said that if PNCR Leader Robert Corbin agreed, an IMC could be in place tomorrow.” In fact, the comment made by the President on the IMC option was offered in response to a question asked by a reporter at the press conference. Instead, the editorial attempts to suggest that the purpose of the press conference was somehow to announce a desire to have an IMC installed.
Secondly, the editorial seeks to suggest that “Freedom House or the Office of the President or both want an excuse to impose an Interim Management Committee on the capital,” and that the government somehow wishes to demonstrate that the city council can’t manage the city.
In this regard, the city council needs absolutely no assistance in demonstrating that they are woefully incapable of managing the city.
Practically every resident of Georgetown, and every right-minded Guyanese, knows of the city council’s ineptitude in collecting rates and taxes due, and of its incompetence and lack of accountability in managing its expenditure.
Thirdly, the editorial seeks to suggest that the council does not have enough revenue to discharge its mandate, and argues that even if the council was the most efficient body in the hemisphere that it would still not have enough funds to run the city. This most astonishing assertion is made without absolutely any empirical evidence, without data on revenue or potential revenue, and without any analysis of the council’s expenditure. In fact, when the records are examined, the fact of the matter is that the council has billions of dollars that are not being collected from ratepayers in default, including the likes of Congress Place which owes City Hall over $100 million in outstanding rates and taxes and has thus far blatantly refused to discharge this liability.
Indeed, it borders on the unbelievable that, instead of calling for more efficient management of existing resources at City Hall, including stepping up collection of currently outstanding rates and taxes and by reducing expenditure in non-critical areas, Stabroek News chooses to call for a broadening of the revenue base of City Hall. The latter call, were it to be granted, would inevitably and obviously lead to more local government rates and taxes having to be paid by the private sector and households living in Georgetown. This call reflects, more clearly than ever before, that the authors and editorial teams at Stabroek News are completely out of touch with reality and with the sentiments of the average Georgetown resident. There is absolutely no appetite for higher rates and taxes to be paid, especially knowing that the resources that are currently collected by City Hall are so woefully mismanaged.
Fourthly, it is striking and revealing that the editorial steers clear of the real issue, this being the fact that the city council has failed continuously to collect its potential revenue, has mismatched and mismanaged its expenditure, and has therefore failed to deliver on its mandate over the years since 1994. This fact, however, has failed to meet the attention, or serve the agenda, of the editor of Stabroek News.
Minister of Local
It is perfectly true that the main purpose of President Jagdeo’s press conference was not to float the possibility of the installation of an Interim Management Committee and it was not the intention of the editorial to suggest that it was. However, it really doesn’t matter how the issue arose, the point is that during the course of his briefing the President was frank in expressing his view that an IMC would be the solution to the current travails in the capital and that if Mr Corbin co-operated one could be installed “tomorrow.” If that is the government’s preferred route then it would explain a great deal about otherwise inexplicable behaviour, such as allowing garbage to pile up for two weeks in a tropical city, representing a major threat to public health.
Where the collection of outstanding rates is concerned, we would direct Minister Lall’s attention to the leader from the week before, where it was stated that the municipality no longer had the tools to compel defaulting rate-payers to meet their financial obligations to the city. The problem is not, therefore, a question of “ineptitude” in terms of collection; the most the council can do is present the ‘carrot’ of an amnesty to defaulters in terms of interest payments (which it has done), but it no longer has a ‘stick.’ While the editorial of September 13 did not actually say so, it did carry the implication that the remedy ultimately to address this particular problem lay in the first instance in central government taking the initiative.
The ‘stick’ referred to above, was parate execution, and therein hangs an interesting tale. In 2007 another Sunday editorial made a point similar to the one which Mr Lall has made above, namely, that even if the revenue base of the city was not to be expanded, the municipality could do a more efficient job of collecting the rates and levying on the properties of defaulters. In response, we received an erudite letter from attorney-at-law, Mr Leon Rockliffe, which was published on November 19, 2007. He alerted us to the amendments to the Municipal and District Councils Act and the Local Government Act which were passed in 1988, and which he said had “the untoward effect of stultifying the parate execution process for rate recovering…” He also explained to us the various other impediments which stood in the way of reviving parate execution. He then said: “It is clear that the existing legal situation calls for drastic executive action, firstly in removal or attenuation of the paralytic effects of the Amendment Acts of 1988 and a serious meeting of the entire Local Government body with the Registrars of Deeds, Lands and the High Court and with appropriate legal advice. There is no alternative to urgent executive action.”
We would be more than willing to make available to Minister Lall the full text of Mr Rockliffe’s letter if he so desires.
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