By Abena Rockcliffe
Call it transition, or year of renaissance as is being touted by the government, however it is put, Guyana renews democracy this year with the holding of Local Government Elections (LGE).
In two months, the nation heads to the polls. Despite the fact that March 19, is such a big day for democracy in Guyana, LGE is not getting as much attention from the voting population as was given to General and Regional Elections. Nevertheless, many of those contesting the all so important election remain entrusted and committed to the cause.
Today Kaieteur News gives insight to the plans of #Team Benschop for Mayor. #Team Benschop for Mayor is one of the contesting groups for LGE.
Their promises include better management for Georgetown, sustained development, and rehabilitated markets that will be sustained from the very taxes paid by vendors, a Mayor of the people and an accountable Council.
#Team Benschop for Mayor will be fielding representatives for all areas in Georgetown with the exception of East La Penitence, River View and Cummings Lodge on the first past the post component as well as proportional representation.
Quite contrary to what is being purported, the laws do not permit an individual to run for Mayor. The Mayor is elected by the City Council. During an interview yesterday, #Team Benschop’s Campaign Manager Ronson Gray, said, “We have 28 candidates who are of the belief that Benschop, who is also a candidate, is the best person suited to function as the mayor.”
Below is the interview.
KN: What do you think qualifies you as a group and what do your candidates bring to the table?
Gray: We have persons with varying skills and qualifications. What we try to do is strike a balance that reflects Georgetown; so we have some grass roots, to give an example, one of our candidates is a vendor. She has been a vendor for over 40 years. Her name is Denise Day, she is from constituency eight. On the other end we have Malika Dowlin. She is a senior manager. Dowlin has been functioning in that capacity for over seven years. We also have Royston Alkins, a young man who is currently in his final year at UG. He has done lots of community work over the years.
KN: What made the group decide that Benschop is best?
Gray: That is because of the work we have seen Mark done for the residents of GT and other parts of Guyana over the years. He is man of the people. But perhaps what we admire about him most is his passion for service and we think that somebody like that at the helm of City Hall is what is needed to get this City back on the right path.
KN: What is the source of funding for the campaign?
Gray: We are currently running on the donations of generous Guyanese. We believe once we are on the ballot officially (after nomination day set for tomorrow) then the business community and other residents of Georgetown will see the strength in the team we have put together and that will encourage them to come out and support our campaign in the form of donation and volunteerism.
KN: What is the campaign strategy for the next few weeks?
Gray: We want to be visible through all mediums. We also have plans in place to reach out directly to communities. We do not intend to be a traditional campaign with the bull horn, the big stage and the music. Instead, we want to reach out directly to the communities that will elect us to represent them. We believe that there is lack of information. A lot of persons do not understand what LGE is about and how it affects them. So we have a responsibility if we want to be elected as their representatives to explain the process and what it means for them. So the core of our campaign will be reaching out.
KN: What is Georgetown’s greatest need at this point?
Gray: That would be proper management. From our research we have found that there are solutions for lots of the problems so we do not have to go and reinvent the wheel. We think that due to improper management, certain things cannot be implemented, certain rules cannot be enforced and that is more of a management issue. We will take management seriously.
KN: The City is getting a major face lift, this coming just before elections enhance the expectation of the masses. Now that people have been given a taste of a bright City they will only want more. Can you provide a smooth transition and continue the good work?
Gray: Of course we can. But I must point out, the cleaning is good. But we have had questions about it. Can it be sustained in the manner in which it is being done? Nobody knows how much money we are spending. How much is being allocated to what specifically. We are just seeing people cleaning. Unless this is done in a transparent manner and we know what the figures are, we might find that next year there might be no cleaning and we end up back at square one because there is no money. If we are to have sustained development we need better management at City Hall. We know there was an issue with the previous administration and the Local Authority (LA) but that does not mean that the LA did not receive revenues. There are other revenue streams that flowed directly into City Hall. Where did it go? We can be facing a situation now where the new government is bent on seeing some changes and is fueling that change but after a while they would not just keep handing money to City Hall. All this comes back to the accountability issue. Right now City Hall is up to $1.3B in debt. It owes GWI, GPL and NIS. I doubt Central Government will keep pouring money into City Hall. At some point City Hall will have to stand on its own and unless we have proper management and accountability that is not going to happen.
KN: Are you really prepared to handle all the inherited debt? Why you want to board a sinking ship?
Gray: We believe if you want to see a change for the better you must be willing to take responsibility and do something no matter how great the challenge may seem. We have to go in and we have to do our part. We do not believe that we are just going to walk in, change a few things and awe everyone. But we believe, given our attitude, experience and vision, we can get the ball rolling to solve some critical issues and to take this City forward.
KN: Do you need a grace period, before we can see a real change?
Gray: There are some changes you should see immediately because it does not require lots of resources. But others will take time. For example the level of service you receive at City Hall will change almost immediately. We had complaints where persons go to pay for a permit and had to bribe a worker to get good service. That is something that can be addressed almost immediately. But if we are looking at the long term cleaning of the City and we are talking about it in a way where the actual outflows to the Atlantic Ocean are cleared, then that will take time. We understand that some outflows are hampered by debris and old pontoons. We can do so much internally but unless we clean those outflows we are going to end up flooded for the most in certain areas. That will take time.
KN: There are seven markets, most dilapidated what does #team Benschop propose?
Gray: The market is special issue for us. You might have noticed Mark’s activism when it comes to defending vendors. As mentioned, we have a vendor who is one of our candidates. What we want to do with the market is first hold discussions with the vendors. We want to know what their views for the way forward are; we will also consult with the experts in the area of structural engineering. The markets need to be rehabilitated. How can we do that in a manner that allows us to improve the facilities? We know there are plans to have double tiered market spaces but we must find the best way where we can achieve that but not have to inconvenience the vendors to a point where we are obstructing their lively hoods…We have been receiving documents from the statuary meetings. It has come to our attention that $149M was received in taxes from January to November last year. And that is from market fees alone. Why is the market in that state if you collect quarter billion a year; that is a management issue.
KN: Speak to me about your view with regards to the amount of groups contesting LGE and the seeming lack of enthusiasm for the voting population?
Gray: I think there is a lack of enthusiasm because there was a lack of information. People are saying they do not understand. I think this is because we have not had it in such a long time so persons cannot immediately grasp the importance.
As it relates to the participation of this many candidates that is something that can be viewed either way. It can be viewed from a positive light in that persons are willing to step out and represent their communities. We would hope that their intentions are in the right place and they just do not want to say ‘let me get on the council to see what I can get for myself’. If it’s from the perspective of serving the communities it is a wonderful thing that we have so many persons. Sad for them, we have the best team. But I think it is positive because that means they have to explain the importance of LGE to the persons they wish to elect them, more sensitization.
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