Kaieteur News – The local government system and the regional administration system are ill equipped to handle the present crisis facing the country. They are unable to mobilise the resources needed to get the water off the land or to provide any substantial relief to the population.
This disability is a direct result of the regional administration and local government systems – Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and Municipalities – being dependent on central government. But government is not the only problem.
For these local government organs to become viable, they need to meet their own revenue needs through increased and additional taxes. However, the public will not allow them to do this. The slightest mention of a new tax or an increase in rate and taxes will lead to protests.
If the public, however, wants to ensure that flooding is prevented or minimised, they will have to be prepared to fork out more monies for their town councils and neighbourhood democratic councils.
The monies, which are paid for rates and taxes by residential owners, cannot pay for the collection of garbage, much less for road works, maintaining the drains and canals and the other numerous municipal services. On the other hand, in order to subsidise residential customers, businesses are being overtaxed.
Businesses are shouldering such a heavy tax burden that many of them are in default because once they miss a payment, the interest charged is onerous and compounded to the point where it becomes unaffordable. This is an issue that the municipalities are not prepared to address, because they are dependent on businesses for their revenue base.
What is needed is a fairer system of taxation in which everyone – businesses and residential owners – pay their fair share of taxes. But there is no fairness at present. Residential owners pay next-to-nothing in rates and taxes and ironically, it is believed that six out of every 10 homeowners are in default of their taxes.
Recently, one Mayor was quoted as saying that his municipality only has 25 percent of its revenue needs. But one minister has publicly said that the municipalities are owed large sums by ratepayers.
In the meantime, the focus will continue to be on bleeding the business community, forcing them to pay higher taxes and even new taxes, such as container taxes, without any fairness in the system.
The vendors who are squatting in front of businesses are not paying any rates and taxes. They are paying a cleaning fee, which is a pittance. And they are responsible for generating much of the garbage and for discouraging consumers from going into businesses.
There are persons parking on the side of the roads and are selling from their vehicles. They should be paying commercial rates and taxes for the use of the roads. There are caravans from which there is roadside food vending. These vendors should be paying the same rates and taxes as some commercial fast food joints. But this is not happening.
In fact, most of the vehicles, which are parked on the roadside, are owned by vendors. Just drive down Regent Street early any morning and you will realise that these vendors are not poor people; they have means.
You can hardly walk with ease on the pavements without having to dodge from the multitudes of pavement vendors. Many persons prefer to walk on the roadway even though there are pavements. The vendors are almost breathing down your throat. And businesses are suffering because the vendors have turned the shopping areas and the markets into eyesores.
Is this how tourism is going to be developed in Guyana? Is this what visitors will experience? The business community must demand a fairer arrangement. They cannot be asked to pay relative high rates and taxes when illegal vending is allowed in front of their premises. And on top of that have to spend million to construct flood barriers.
The local private sector can never become competitive given the unfair competition to which they are subjected and the uneven playing field in which they operate. The Private Sector Commission and the respective chambers of commerce should place this foremost on their organisations’ agendas.
The British designed the drainage system in Guyana to take off the expected rainfall. The drains were not deep but they were well maintained. Today they are not properly maintained and businesses have been forced to suffer.
No major engineering intervention is needed. The solution is to go back to the old system of sweepers, cleaners and weeders. But how will the drains in the commercial district be cleaned when from daybreak, vendors are setting up their pallets over these drains?
The local government organs, however, play politics with municipal business. They are not interested in ensuring a level playing field. And so they are cash-strapped and will remain dependent on government.
This makes them dysfunctional in addressing national emergencies such as the flooding, which takes place after a short shower of rainfall. No solution to flooding will take place so long as our local government organs, particularly the NDCs and municipalities, are not prepared to ensure a level playing field when it comes to local government taxes.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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