Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: I rise to support the motion and some of the amendments that have been proposed by the other side in this motion. When the mover of the motion first came up with this idea of a motion in the National Assembly I believe it arose out of a genuine concern for the state of the city and the complaints that were made by citizens of the mess in which they found themselves in. I do not believe we came here tonight to be casting blames left, right and centre as to who is responsible for what but we thought that we are going to look forward to see what we need to do to take this city to a place where we want it to be. On this side we are getting forward-thinking ideas. We have heard the presentation of the mover of the motion, the presentation of Dr. Roopnarine, the presentation of Ms. Catherine Hughes, the presentation of Ms. Annette Ferguson, all forward-looking. On the other side the blame game started. What we are seeing here is exactly what is taking place out there. It is an attitude which this Government has to the governance of this city. That is a problem.
Let us look at what the Hon. Minister just said. First of all, what he said? “We have intervened in roads - they have taken over the roads; we intervened in the drains - cleaning of the drains; we have intervened in garbage collection; we have intervened in education of the citizens of their responsibilities - public awareness”. All of these are responsibilities of the city that were taken over by the Government. [Interruption] It is not saving. You took it over. This is the attitude, that you are taking away, piece by piece, and you leave the city council with absolutely nothing and you blame it. What we are seeing here is an attitude of a government that has taken on to itself the responsibility for running the city but leaving the obligations with the city councils. That is what it is doing.
I would like to look at this matter from the point of view of a citizen of Guyana. The Hon. Minister started off by trying to correct some of the statements that were made by the previous speaker, Ms. Catherine Hughes, about percentages, and so on. I am happy that in a tangential way he sought to correct the Hon. Minister Benn when he said that the collection rate in Georgetown was fifty per cent because the Minister knows that I sit, along with Mr. Basil Williams on the Special Select Committee on the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/2012; Local Government Commission Bill 2012 – Bill No. 13/2012; Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 19/2012; and the Fiscal Transfer Bill 2012 – Bill No. 20/2012, and Ms. Shadick, and the Minister himself and he provided information to us which states that the collection rate was in the vicinity of seventy to eighty per cent. When we are correcting let us be corrected across the board and set the records straight.
What we want to say is this: That the APNU always stood ready - we are not in the city council - to work with all interested parties to ensure that the city was cleaned; that it was restored to the position it held previously. In this regard on the 27th of November, 2012, I visited West Ruinveldt. I am going to get down to specifics; I am going to get down to how the citizens see that. This is not a public relations (PR) exercise; this is a matter that affects the lives of the people of this city. I went to West Ruimveldt at the invitation of residents who have been preparing their homes for Christmas, the Christmas season, and they showed me, along with Member of Parliament Baveghems and Member of Parliament Christopher Jones, that their houses were inundated with water. They had to lift up the chairs, and everything, and put them on blocks. This had nothing to do with any flooding; it was just a bit of rain. [Mr. Benn: My yard was flooded too.] Your yard was flooded too. What happened was that, when they showed me, the drains behind them were all blocked up and there were snakes and all sorts of other things crawling in to their homes. All of that was happening right there in West Ruimveldt. What I said to the people is that this is a matter that we will have to take up at a very high level.
On the 3rd of December, 2012, APNU called on all citizens to come together to clean up the city. We called upon everyone and the citizens responded. This is the element that is lacking in the intervention of the Government in the work in this city - citizen intervention. The citizens came out on the 3rd of December, 2012 from all the wards of Georgetown, including the private sector, the diplomatic community, the same Georgetown City Council, in which the Government Members said that they do not want anybody to be involved in their work. They were all there. What happened was that, in the face of this, the Government decided that it is going to do it alone and it called it own exercise and brought four hundred workers from the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) to Georgetown and said, “Look, this is what you will do.”
When we complain that people are not buying in to what is happening, it is the landlord attitude which the Government has, that says, “What I say and what I do you have to follow”. It is a bad attitude. [Mr. G. Persaud: Are you sure that we brought those people into the city?] You brought them from up the East Coast. [Mr. Benn: You did not want them to come and help.] We welcome it. Our citizens have always been concerned about the condition of this city. I was going through the newspapers… [An Hon. Member: Which of the newspapers?] I am not using Kaieteur News tonight … and there was a column , in the Stabroek News, dated the 23rd of January, 2012, “What the people say”. They were asked about their thoughts of the buildup of garbage around the city and the role that citizens must play in rectifying that problem. This is what we are talking about: people who are concerned and they were going to say how they felt that they could be involved in it. Let me tell you what they said. I will call the names because it is a newspaper. There was a lady by the name of Carol Umm Earner public sector worker, she said this:
“I think they should sit and have a discussion with all persons who are involved with the disposal of garbage. The citizens need to know the rules about littering and if they do this they should be charged, but this current situation of the dumping Georgetown is not what it was years ago. The buildings are close and you do not really have anywhere to burn.”
This is what she said.
Michelle Abraham Ali, we know that is a popular media personality, said:
“As citizens we have to be a little more careful of how we disposed of our garbage, talking about everything from plastic wears even our personal disposals”
Kideesha Ali, a student, said:
“I think citizens should march for the problem to be fixed because there is no place for people to dispose of their garbage and that is why this problem exists. Burning as an alternative is not very sensible, as it is polluting the air and causing global warming.”
There were several other persons, Naomi Richards, a public sector employee, Delon Peters, a Private sector employee, Shannon Greene, a student and Andrea Lewis, a teacher.
What they were all saying is that, as citizens, they recognise that they have an obligation in all that is happening, so that while they are contributing to the garbage they believe that if they were given correct education and they are provided with the right facilities they can contribute to making Georgetown the place it use to be. This is information that is out there, within the public, saying to us all, as legislators, that the people want to do something about this problem. This is why I commend my colleagues Mrs. Volda Lawrence for the motion that has been brought here today.
The Hon. Minister spoke about the Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme which was financed by the IDB and under this programme this Haags Bosch facility was constructed on the East Bank of Demerara, at Eccles. On the 17th of October, 2012 the contractor Mr. Tiwari of BK International said this about the facility: [Mr. G. Persaud: What date is that?] It was the 17th of October, 2012. You can go back and check that.
“BK International is contracted to build and operate the landfill in 2012 in accordance with a design provided by Government under an IDB financed Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme. The contractor pointed out that Haags Bosch landfill was designed to accommodate two hundred and fifty thousand tons of garbage waste per day but it was already receiving as much as six hundred thousand tons per day.”
It is over double what the designed capacity was.
When we consider the Haags Bosch site… I went there myself. I visited and I saw some of the problems that exist there and I understand that the two Ministers there, Minister Whittaker and Minister Edghill, visited it sometime later and figured some of the way to deal with some of the problems there was to give the garbage pickers bicycles. That was the ways of dealing with some of the huge problems that existed at that site. It was in the papers [Interruption] how did you get around doing it - to give them bicycles?
Minister within the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: It is not true.
Mr. Speaker: If it is not true, you should say it because it does not sound too good.
Bishop Edghill: Mr. Speaker, would the Hon. Member be advised that the giving out of bicycles had nothing to do with what he is talking about. It is part of the resettlement plan of moving the pickers from Mandela dump site to Haags Bosch landfill site. It has absolutely nothing to do with what he is talking about, and that should be corrected.
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: What are you resettling? It is the same thing.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I am afraid to ask whether it is the garbage being resettled or would it be the people? But I would not ask it.
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: That is the question. Why are you giving bicycles to them, Mr. Speaker? In any event, if they came from Georgetown, it is eight miles riding, with this bicycle, to get to where the landfill site is. The problem I believe is this, is that when there is development, which is not properly coordinated, there will be of this nature arising, because when the Le Repentir dumping site was closed and the Haags Bosch was opened it was intended to take up not only Georgetown garbage. It was intended to take up the garbage from the East Bank Demerara, from the West Coast Demerara and on the East Coast Demerara - fifteen in all Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and the city of Georgetown. That is what it was meant to do.
What we are seeing here is that there is traffic coming from the East Bank Demerara, traffic coming from the East Coast Demerara, traffic coming from Georgetown all to get to this facility by five o’ clock on a daily basis, from Mondays to Fridays, and by one o’clock on Saturdays. What we discovered was that instead of going there, they do not get there by five o’clock and the place is closed, they dropped the garbage on their way in. If you go in to Haags Bosch landfill site, Mr. Speaker, you will see what I am taking about. On both sides of the road, you see little piles of garbage there. That is what is happening. In addition to that, those people who could afford it and pay for their garbage to be collected, the people who they pay to collect this garbage dump it in any place, which is dark. That is why along Thomas Land and all of those places by the National Park, where people can exercise normally and breathe air freely, little piles of garbage are piling up all along there. You can go along the Mandela Avenue, all the way to the East Bank Demerara, you will see them along the road there. This is the route that those trucks use to get to Haags Bosch landfill site and when they recognise that they cannot get there on time they will just dump it there and they would go back home.
What I am saying, please, is that we have to ensure that we have a holistic arrangement where all of these things are part of it. We must recognise that putting Haags Bosch landfill site where it is without having the necessary facilities in Georgetown, and in those other NDCs, to do some preliminary sorting before it gets there is a mistake and we have to fix it.
The Hon. Minister Mr. Benn earlier said that I have made this comment that the Government was not doing the city a favour. I stand to that. That is my position. It is no favour that the Government is doing the city. In 1997, in this very House, the Minister of Finance, Mr. Ali, at that time, in proposing the Custom (Amendment) Bill, imposed a tax of $10 on containers for the purpose of an environmental tax. It was meant to be that. That was money to be spent on the environment. Therefore if the Minister is to count on how much money would have been collected from 1997 to today then we can see why I am saying that the Ministry has a right to do what it is doing in the city. It has a duty because that is our money.
I do not know what has happened with that money, if there is in fact a separate account called the Environmental Tax Account, or whatever it is. I am not sure whether that money goes into the general melting pot and it is part of the overall budget of the Consolidated Fund. I do not know. What I am saying, please, Mr. Speaker, is that the citizens of Georgetown are entitled to a part of that money and that money must be applied to the situation here. To complain that the Georgetown City Council collects $1.2 billion… [Mr. G. Persaud: $1.8 billion]… or $1.8 billion, whatever it is, is a part of the problem. We are saying that there is enough money in the system to deal with the restoration of the city. What we are saying is that we need to have, as the motion suggests, a broader based committee to deal with the matter of the restoration of this city. That narrow based of persons who are just connected to the Government, spoken about by the Hon Minister, not too long ago, we want a broader base. This is what the motion speaks about.
The motion speaks to the establishment of a committee consisting of Member of Parliament, Officials of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council - it does not say to give them all the money; it says a committee with all these people - Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, [Mr. Benn: There is no such Ministry.] Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. I am reading what the motion states Comrades [Mr. Benn: Well, let me correct it.] Thanks for the correction. The purpose of this is to monitor the progress of the restoration of the city and to report back to the National Assembly, within four months, as to what is being done. I do not think this is an unreasonable position. I do not think that this is an unreasonable resolve clause.
It is my firm belief that if we are to harness all of the resources of the citizens of the city of Georgetown that we can restore it to the beauty which we speak about. I am convinced about that and it is for that reason that I support the motion in the name of the Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence. [Applause]