– Attorney Ronald Burch-Smith
There have been repeated calls for public entities to conduct their affairs in a manner that is transparent and accountable. As such, the government of the day is being called upon to insist on financial responsibility from the Georgetown Mayor and City Council.
This plea was made by attorney-at-law Ronald Burch-Smith who was at the time addressing attendees at a Town Hall meeting on parking meters on Saturday. Burch-Smith said the council’s proposed budget for this year is in the region of $3B and should be enough reason for the municipality to be audited.
“I shudder to consider any organisation, private or public in this country that spends that sort of money and cannot produce an audit. It is obscene. The idea that they are going to continue to contribute to an entity that spends this sort of money with absolutely no explanation of where it went or where it went wrong, makes no sense.”
He said that even if things aren’t going wrong, an audit points to areas which can be improved so that citizens can get value for money. Important areas he said would be to find out if projects are being executed on time, and whether the tendering process is being respected.
According to Burch-Smith, such information is critical to ensuring that the municipality is achieving optimum performance with the revenues that will be coming in. “So the idea that there has been no audit of City Hall for 10 to 15 years is way past ridiculous.”
Burch-Smith added that after perusing the City’s 2017 budget, he noticed that the amount which the council expects to gain from the parking meter project is just 10 percent of its budget.
“Why would City Hall expend this sort of political capital to pursue a project that does not solve its problems? It’s difficult to understand.”
Further, he highlighted the issue of rates which he said under the Municipal and District Council’s Act gives a local authority to collect rates. “The money expended has to be paid for by the citizens, based on rates collected from the citizens. Those rates are based on the value of the property and what you use the property for.”
The attorney said that as such, City Council cannot do anything unless the citizens pay for it. He recognised that citizens want the council to provide necessary services, but a significant number refuse to pay their fair share of rates and taxes.
“I think … a part that goes towards fiscal responsibility in the city is a commitment by the residents of Georgetown to pay their fair share of obligations. Every time I pay my rates I am appalled and slightly embarrassed at what I am paying, and what I get from the City in return. My rates can’t pay for the garbage that is collected from my home every Friday.”
According to Burch-Smith, it would be wrong to demand fiscal responsibility from the city while at the same time not demanding from the citizens greater participation in assisting the city to discharge its obligations.
“Inefficient management of the city is something that will affect our children and our children’s children. We have to accept the responsibility of ensuring that things are done correctly.”
This is not the first time an audit of the city has been under the spotlight. Last November, Councillor Bishram Kuppen told the media that he has moved a motion three times for an audit of M&CC accounts, but to no avail.
He said, “Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money are being spent without any credible financial reports or audits performed for the money spent, as required by the Municipal and District Councils Act Cap. 28:01 section 177.”
On each occasion, Kuppen said that the Town Clerk, Royston King had informed him that he found fault with the motions, but did not advise what those discrepancies were. When this newspaper spoke with Mayor Patricia Chase-Green, she had said the document which Kuppen submitted was incorrectly worded, therefore his application was unsuccessful.
According to the Mayor, her council remains open to being audited. Earlier this year, she had reported that back in 2011 and 2012, letters were written to the Office of the Auditor General on three occasions to conduct an audit, but there was no intervention. The last known audits were done by Keith Burrowes and Ramon Gaskin, at the expense of the council.
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