Mrs. Hughes: Hon. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to support this important and timely motion, The Restoration of Georgetown, on behalf of the Alliance For Change. I recognise each of us, Hon. Members, sitting in this House bring our individual communities and sometimes our own political positions on a range of issue that come before this House on behalf of the people of Guyana, whom we serve, but I am optimistic that when one closely examines the motion, the Restoration of Georgetown to its once pristine glory as the garden city of the Caribbean, this is an objective that we should all be committed to finding real solutions to once and for all. After all Georgetown is our capital city, the seat of our Government, home to our Parliament, historic law court, cathedrals, temples, mosques, churches and home to more than 60 percent of our population. We therefore have the responsibility to protect and preserve this great city that was handed to us and to ensure that we leave it intact to hand on to successive generations of Guyanese. I am confident that none of us would want to go down in history as ignoring, destroying or failing to bring back from the precipice of destruction our city of Georgetown. This is therefore not a political issue but one that each and every Guyanese can and must rally around with a united commitment to taking responsibility for the role each of us plays in the unfolding tragedy that takes place today.
Let us be honest with ourselves. Clogged drains which once flowed freely have trees growing out of them. We now have generations which do not know that some of our drains in the city are, in fact, concrete drains and that in some areas drains are in fact drains and not reclaimed lands. The daily horror stories during the rainy season of schools being closed because of flooding, sections of the city under water after a few hours of rainfall and the incident of overflowing sewage in the business area are all events which we should bow our heads in shame over.
This motion attempts to highlight the major issues facing our city. I mentioned drainage and the other issues, including mounting garbage, contractors’ and builders’ waste left callously on the sides of streets which are all alluded to and considered in the motion with a plea for close examination and a resolution of the problem.
Several organisations over the last ten years have attempted to clean up and find solutions to the smothering of the city under mounting piles of garbage. In each attempt, the result has been limited and unsustainable.
I feel that with this motion this Parliament has the unique opportunity to declare to all of Guyana that this unfolding disaster is totally unacceptable and that each of us has the responsibility to stop it right now. This must be done for our continued good health and, most importantly, for our personal pride as Guyanese. I hold my head in shame when visitors to our country seek explanations as to why the city is so filthy for the dirt and filth are a reflection of each and every one of us, our children, our teenagers, our adults, pensioners. Each one of us contributes to this mammoth problem.
I recognise that the entity to deal with most of these challenges is the City Council. I also recognise that the city has an expanding population and that brings strain to an over-ageing infrastructure and dwindling revenues vis-à-vis rising costs and lower tax collection revenues all pose real and present dangers. Now is the time for us to implement the numerous suggestions put forward by so many over the years; things like increasing revenue based on parking meters, a municipal lottery or revenue to be gained by the erection of billboards on acceptable sites. These are just some of the many suggestions. Not to mention revenues from the lotto fund and the $1.8 billion collected so for an environmental tax which can be used for the restoration of our city.
I am well aware the criticisms will be laid by many against the Council and by others against the Government with claims of them paying their taxes on time. Many would even suggest that the Hon. Minister Whittaker and, indeed, the Hon. Minister Benn have no moral authority to bellyache about the ills of the City Council and the mismanagement of the municipality when the Government that they are both a part of has failed to hold Local Government Elections in 19 years.
We in the AFC are critical of the way the City Council operates. We are also aware of mismanagement and the inefficiencies as well as the corruption but the Government cannot remove itself from blame. The cure is Local Government Elections which this PPP Government has refused to hold. Government MP, the Hon. Hamilton, said that the problem is not garbage but solid waste but he forgets that the Government benefited from a US$20 million solid waste project and up to this day the Government has shelved the Draft Solid Waste Management Law and has refused to set up a solid Waste Management Authority with powers to prosecute. The Government has also failed to introduce legislation for the proper disposal of toxic medical waste and hazardous waste and has placed citizens’ safety and health in jeopardy as we saw most recently in Red Village.
I say to all of us in this room ‘Let us stop the “scapegoating”. We in the AFC are not going to waste time debating where to lay the blame for a wise woman once said, in fact she is Hillary Clinton, “Every wasted moment looking back prevents us from moving forward.” The current blame game leaves us all paralyzed, living in filth and fearing an outbreak of an epidemic at any time. As I said, every wasted moment looking back prevents us from moving forward. This, after all, is a ‘to do’ motion and I believe that we in this House have a great opportunity to work together and to change this.
The motion recognises the expanding boundaries of the city which has contributed to the strain. We in the AFC would like to suggest that we reconsider the subdividing of the city into wards as was done before. We consider and recognise that along the East Coast Corridor, between Liliendaal and Turkeyen, we have a collection of high-profile institutions that make all of us proud. These include the CARICOM Headquarters, our International Conference Centre, the new Aquatic Centre, the University of Guyana. How can we accept piles of garbage in these areas or anywhere else in Guyana?
One of my most embarrassing moments as a Guyanese recently was to open our news papers a few months ago and to see photographs of our “A-B-C” Ambassadors encouraging us to clean up our mess. Although every appreciative of their assistance over the years to their current support of the Pick It Up Campaign, which we all support, I could not help but be overwhelmed with emotion that others have to come in to help us to clean up our own house. This highlights the need for strict enforcement of litter laws and the prosecution for dumping of commercial and industrial waste, not to mention the wanton disposal of every imaginable form of garbage that is thrown out of every vehicle including cars and minibuses and that we see on the seawall after Sunday evening and other places far too many to mention. More garbage bins emptied often and other creative initiatives must be implemented immediately and I think that all of us can contribute to the solution.
As a contrast to our situation, Suriname has some of the cleanest cemeteries maintained by offenders during community service and I am happy to hear the Minister Benn is using their services. These cemeteries, believe it or not, do in fact embody part of our history. This shows that, with creative approaches, solutions can be found.
The motion in its current form goes far beyond merely cleaning up the city but in fact talks about restoring Georgetown. Given this we would like to further suggest that an architectural landscape of Guyana be commissioned by our architects and engineers so that we can create a vision of what the city will look like in 50 years, with careful consideration for spaces that we should be allocating for parking and recreational activities. Let us put on the table the hundreds of plans and proposals gathering dust in so many offices all across Guyana that highlight innovative plans for the development of the seawall area and other prime locations, a proper and attractive vendors’ arcade for our creative craftsmen and all of these other opportunities bursting with potential.
Now to the greater tourism potential that the possible restoration of our city offers: A review of UNESCO’s World Heritage Website reminds us that as far back as 1995, and later in 2005, locations in Guyana had been placed on a tentative list for possible acceptance as world heritage sites.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site listing grants worldwide recognition to locations and historical monuments deemed to be of outstanding universal value. Today there are nine hundred and sixty-two such locations across the world. The Caribbean World Heritage Site includes the Barrier Reef Reserve System in Belize, the Piton Management Area in St. Lucia and in Suriname the Central Suriname Nature Reserve and the entire area called the Historic Inner City of Paramaribo.
We are fortunate that in Guyana we have five strong possibilities for World Heritage Site listing. Three of the five possibilities are, in fact, located in Georgetown. These five sites are the City Hall of Georgetown, Fort Zeelandia, including the Court of Policy in Essequibo, what is called Plantation Georgetown Structure and Historic Buildings, which is larger Georgetown area, Shell Beach on the Essequibo Coast and finally the St George’s Cathedral.
Members of this House, the possibilities for increased tourism revenues and most importantly the success stories of listed locations, which have been restored with valuable assistance from UNESCO, are many. The process of restoring Georgetown, therefore, will assist in moving Guyana sites from a tentative listing to a recognised listing. Let us commit to examining new ways that our municipalities can be managed in the future, as a way of dealing with the current problems.
I have expressed, on many occasions, to my friend, the Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce my willingness to work with him on the development of the tourism sector. I see him smiling. The spirit of cooperation and working together, in our city, to make our city better for all Guyanese, I am convinced, is one area we can find consensus on.
With continuing public awareness and education, the implementation of sorting and recycling at homes of citizens and the implementation of solutions to the myriad of problems we have talked about so far, today, we can restore this precious city. I am convinced that we can work together, so I say let this motion be an important start to the task ahead with public and private sectors, the city council, Government and Guyanese citizens of all ages on board, I am confident that we can succeed.
Thank you. [Applause]