– admits $1B ‘Clean up my country’ project could have been better handled
By Jarryl Bryan
Former Minister of the then Local Government and Regional Development Ministry, Norman Whittaker, is contending that efforts to clean the capital city under the PPP failed because the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) refused to co-operate with him.
But he conceded that the $1B ‘Clean up my country’ project during his tenure could have been more effectively executed.
Citing ‘political interference’ on the part of Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green and others, Whittaker told Kaieteur News that he had held ‘one on one discussions’ with Green, during his tenure, but these discussions did not produce positive results.
“A lot of what was done was political,” Whittaker said. “They did not support the People’s Progressive Party. Look at the city cleanup. A lot of the containers (were acquired) under the PPP. The apathy was because of political influence.”
Whittaker said that he had complained about the lack of cooperation, and efforts were made to deal with Green’s attitude.
One measure was Whittaker himself attending the City Hall statutory meetings, during which some discussions with the Mayor were also held.
However, Whittaker related that he was made to feel unwelcome on occasions and was even forced to leave at one point. The former Minister stated that recourse was then made to technical people such as the Town Clerk and Deputy Town Clerk, and he got some results.
$1B ‘Clean up my country’
Whittaker also spoke of the $1B ‘Clean up my country’ project that was initiated in 2014 under his tenure and which has been the source of some contention.
It was reported following an audit of the fund late last year that about a third of the $1B was spent on the acquisition of tools and equipment including tractors and trailers, mini excavators and a skid steer loader.
According to the records kept at the Ministry, the tools were issued to various community groups to clean their environs and should have been returned at the completion of the exercise.
When the audit office made its checks however, it was found that both used and new tools were stored in the same area with no means of distinguishing one from the other.
“In addition, these items were not properly stored to enable a physical
verification,” the audit report had stated. The audit found too that the necessary checks and balances were not employed to keep track of receipts and issuance of the items.
As such, the Audit Office “could not have verified whether all the items were received, properly brought to account, and whether proper control was exercised over their use.”
Whittaker yesterday noted that tools and equipment, along with bins and vehicles, were indeed procured for the work of community groups, on the premise that they would be returned.
He noted that when returned, it was the intention that they would be handed over to the Neighborhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and other authorities that had complained about lack of equipments.
He noted that some equipment was returned and handed over before the May 2015 General and Regional elections. While Whittaker stated that he was not privy to the details of the 2015 audit into the $1B ‘clean up my country’ and had only heard mention of it, he noted that that could explain some of the other equipment found in the store rooms.
He noted that the programme itself was conducted largely by the technical personnel and on the basis of a committee composed of different Ministries, including his and the Ministry of Agriculture.
According to Whittaker, the committee came up with recommendations and his Permanent Secretary directed the show in accordance with the Committee’s recommendations.
Having said that, Whittaker admitted that better work could have been done in the Georgetown leg of the cleanup programme, towards which half of the ‘Clean up my country’ money went.
He said that there were various factors that had to be dealt with, including inclement weather.
“(But) note that the Council did not support the cleanup project and so did not avail any of the 200 plus underutilized workers at their disposal as they did recently,” Whittaker related.
Whittaker said that the M&CC’s primary revenue streams were revenue collected from businesses. However, he noted that they also managed the monies from subventions each year.
Whittaker claimed that provision of these monies was fair and cut across the entire municipality of Georgetown, to remove claims of discrimination. In fact, Whittaker said, they got more than Guyana’s five other municipalities.
“Note also that the PPP/C Government did provide annual grants/subventions to the City Council to assist that body to do works in the various constituencies,” Whittaker related. “Notwithstanding the fact that that body was collecting in excess of $2B annually in rates and taxes and market fees etc. from citizens.”
So what went wrong?
Whittaker stated that while huge sums of money passed through the M&CC’s hands, a fact that will be supported by financial statements, the Council did not use these funds wisely.
Whittaker claimed that it was instead used for wages and salaries of workers attached to the Council, despite workers sometimes not living up to their responsibility.
He spoke of M&CC once having workers employed in road building and building construction, but upon a closer look there was little to no work being done. He alleged that while some were exceptional, others were prone to idling.
The cleanup campaign, initiated by the APNU+AFC since coming into office back in May 2015, has incorporated numerous measures that can be considered innovative, relative to Guyana and its track record.
Under the popular initiative “Let’s Keep Georgetown Clean” there have been youth clean-up drives, celebrity clean up drives, City Court staff embarking on clean up drives and residents from communities in Georgetown emerging to do their part. The result of this collaboration has seen massive changes.
Last week, Town Clerk Royston King pegged the money spent on community cleanup projects in Georgetown at some $131M.
Meanwhile, in the offing is the impending construction of a complex behind the 1763 Monument, in the Durban Park area, between Homestretch Avenue and Hadfield Street.
The complex, which will be known as the Durban Park Jubilee Stadium Complex, is being spearheaded by the Ministry of the Presidency, with critical sections geared to be ready for Guyana’s 50th Independence anniversary celebrations on May 26th.
When completed, the facility is expected to consist of a tree-shaded promenade, stadium and health and recreational facilities. The project was announced several weeks ago, but there were little details about how it is being financed.
The complex is designed in three sections: – the promenade, stadium and Health and Recreational Park. The stadium is expected to host up to 30,000 persons. Section One – the promenade – will consist of nine ponds, each for a former president of Guyana. It is the initial plan to build tennis courts, tracks and play facilities for children.
President David Granger and Minister of State Joseph Harmon had visited the area and it was announced that other national events will be held there. The President said that he looks forward to Durban Park, which will be equipped with an all-weather surface in some areas and flood lights, becoming a major public venue.
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