May 07, 2021 News
– As revenues move from $92M in 2017 to $32M in 2020
Kaieteur News – Linden Mayor WanekaArrindell and her Deputy Wainewright Bethune, are concerned that monies are being pilfered from the Kara Kara toll booth, as financial records show that there has been a significant decrease in recent years. What is more troubling to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and councillors, is that this concern has been brought to the attention of the administration of the council since 2017, yet no aggressive measures are being implemented to unearth why funds continue to decrease. The head of the administration of the council is Town Clerk, Orleena Obermuller.
The financial records seen by Kaieteur News from 2018 show that at October of the three consecutive years, $60M was collected in 2018, $52M in 2019 and $39M in 2020. Bethune however stated in a recent interview, that the financial records for 2017, showed that the toll booth raked in $92M.
The records seen, also show that between September to October 2020, there was a rapid increase in revenues, even though the country was under COVID-19 lockdown. Bethune reasoned that this was the case after the councillors began to make noise about what was transpiring –$7M was collected in revenues from September to October 2020. This was an increase of more than $3M that was being collected consistently for previous months. “When they realised something was happening, the revenue increased higher, even though we were in a pandemic year,” Deputy Mayor Bethune said.
In 2016, former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil William, recommissioned the toll booth, after it was disbanded in 2013, by former Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker.
The recommissioning of the toll booth was meant to increase revenues for the cash-strapped Linden Mayor and Town Council (LMTC) so that it could clear debts and sustain itself. Bethune said the toll booth, since 2016, has only marginally increased the revenue of the Council and it remains cash-strapped. Currently, revenues garnered can only meet 20 percent of the Council’s expenditure.
In 2017, during the Mayorship of Carwyn Holland, mere months after the toll booth was recommissioned, two staff were fired for pilfering funds. This prompted the Council to install CCTV cameras, but apparently, the situation remains the same, since records show the continuous decline in revenues.
In 2019, a point-of-sale machine was purchased but has not been operational. This machine was purchased to effectively record every transaction made but according to Mayor WanekaArrindell and Deputy Mayor Wainewright Bethune, the administration is not pursuing solutions aggressively to get the equipment operational.
In an invited comment, Town Clerk Obermuller, called on the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to put forward proof of pilfering and collusion, so that those found guilty can be terminated, as was done before. “If there is any proof, then those proof needs to be brought forward so that the necessary actions can be taken because I know prior, once any staff was found guilty, that staff was terminated, so this is just an allegation, until there is proof that same is happening,” Obermuller said.
The Council proposed to the administration to relocate the toll booth to Bamia, where there will be police presence and there are also no other alternative routes to enter the township. This proposal, Mayor Arrindell said, has not been considered by the administration, much less to be executed. With the relocation and a working point-of-sale machine, figures are expected to go up, which will in turn increase revenues for the Council, something that is badly needed at this juncture. Because of its cash-strapped state, the staff continue to be paid below minimum wage and their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions are not being paid.
Arrindell said she continues to question why the administration is not pursuing measures aggressively to fix the system, but continues to adapt a laid-back approach to executing policies that will increase revenue.
“There is no position of interest in my opinion from the administration, nobody in this administration has the capacity to manage…So here is it, you have a Council that has been detecting issues and solutions that could make this Council far more effective but it is being ignored and the ignoring of those issues has resulted in mismanagement,” Deputy Mayor Bethune stated.
The elected officials also chided the administration for providing misinformation to the Council, when questions are asked about revenue collection. “When I say they lack the capacity to manage, we have a Council who is in the abyss of debts and the general management of this place could only place it deeper because decisions being made, are not with thoughts of financial control…No one, including the TC, has approached the Council with ideas of curtailing spending and improving revenue collection,” Bethune reiterated.
The TC however claims that it is the Mayor’s responsibility as Chairwoman of the Finance Committee, to ensure the necessary policies to ensure that revenue collection is not only implemented but executed.
The elected officials believe that the relationship between the Council and the administration will continue to be strained if policies continue to be thrown under the table. They argue that constitutional reform is needed to equip local government organs with more power to govern the municipalities in a way that will not only make them policy makers but executors as well.
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