The private sector has started the ball rolling in terms of creating a more harmonious relationship between the government and the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown (M&CC).
The private sector was in my previous column challenged to act as a bridge between the two sides, given the situation that has developed in the city following the withdrawal of garbage collection services. They have done better than this. They have begun to build up trust by directly engaging the City Council and demonstrating goodwill by offering material assistance in the collection of garbage. This is a commendable gesture by whoever is involved in this initiative. Those private sector companies that are offering vehicles to help collect garbage around the city must be congratulated.
Obviously this is a short term measure and cannot be sustained. The long term solution to the problem of garbage collection has to do with the council being able to afford to pay for regular refuse collection services from private contractors or alternatively to put systems in place to collect the refuse itself.
The latter may be too ambitious given past experiences. As such the Council needs to find a way to pay the private contractors for the services provided. To do so requires that the Council has the financial resources to pay the contractors.
The Council is claiming that it cannot do so with its limited revenue base. It wants new sources of taxes and a property revaluation exercise. The government on the other hand claims that management costs are too high and urges a reduction in these costs. City Hall in turn says that it finds it difficult to cut these costs because it needs greater capacity.
Reduction of managerial costs does not necessarily have to involve personnel cuts. It could be a blend of staff redundancies and salary reduction.
And this is where the private sector can play a role. If the engagement with the Council is to be sustained, if a solution is to be found to the garbage crisis in Georgetown and if the private sector is to play a role, then it cannot avoid involvement in addressing the causes of the failure to pay the refuse collection contractors. It cannot avoid addressing the revenue constraints of City Hall.
This will place it in the role of an intermediary between the government and City Hall. Government wants value for money. It also wants a reduction in managerial expenses as a percentage of total revenue. Based on reports, City Hall does not seem to feel that it can make such cuts. There is therefore an impasse within the larger impasse and this is where the private sector can help.
This column had proposed that an interim management team be put in place to manage City Hall until such time as its financial situation is improved. Town Hall is going to be opposed to this.
But the private sector should try to convince City Hall that it be put on the table for discussion. At the same time, the private sector should agree to review the organizational structure at City Hall. This will take a few months by which time the interim management team should be in place.
If the review finds that there is a need for a leaner and slimmer organizational structure, then the Council should agree to make the necessary redundancies. If on the other hand the review finds that there is need for only minor modifications in the organizational chart, then the issue should be a lot less complex.
What the private sector is doing at the moment is good, but it will not make any lasting impression unless the root causes of the problems at City Hall are addressed. One side feels it is a problem of money. The other side feels that managerial problems are contributing to the repeated setbacks.
Another proposal that the private sector should explore is for a special fund to be created, into which every household will be required to pay a weekly contribution of $300, and for this fund to be reserved strictly for garbage collection.
Whatever the problems of finances at City Hall, the rates and taxes paid by households are abysmally low to pay for refuse collection services. Citizens are realizing this since many of them have to pay as much as $500 per week to have their garbage removed.
The private sector can help find a way out of the present crisis by working towards a long term solution rather than concentrating only on the build-up of garbage at the moment.
As it helps clean the refuse, it should also bear in mind that the problem will reappear unless there is a permanent solution at City Hall.
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