Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: Thank you Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members. I think that the discussion this time on the restoration of the City of Georgetown is an important discussion. I think however, that the way the motion is presented, the information that is presented in it and the way that the mover of the motion and some of her supporters have been characterising the issues dealing with the City of Georgetown, presents an escapist position with respect to the City and its problems.
First off, I would like to apologise to the Hon. Member, Ms. Ferguson, if somehow I gave her the impression that I was responsible for the cleanup of the City of Georgetown and for the management of the City of Georgetown. [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Not the city, the lot next to her house.] Even for the lot next to her house.
We cannot avoid discussing the problems of the City of Georgetown without going to the crux of the matter, the hub and periphery of the problems as was expressed by the Hon. Members, Mr. Joseph Hamilton and Mr. Norman Whittaker, the Minister within the Ministry of Local Government. The fact of the matter as was clearly represented by them is that we have a Mayor and City Council that have a clear revenue base, who have staff, an establishment, workers, management and others who are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the City with respect to policing with respect to constabulary of course, garbage, the cleaning of drains and the cemeteries and all those things which were so lamented about in great details by the Hon. Members on our side.
It is strange too to have to point out that there are two different things going on in the City of Georgetown. On the one hand, for the first time in perhaps ten or fifteen years, in fact, for even a longer period, but over the last ten or fifteen years, the landscape of the City of Georgetown, its profile, architecturally, is being transformed. Much of this is attributed to the efforts of the ordinary citizens, the businessmen, the entrepreneurs and also to the Government which has worked hard to create the environment so that there are successful businesses, housing development, professional development and business development through the Central Housing and Planning Authority and other agencies in the City.
No one can gain say that on each major street in the City of Georgetown: Regent Street, Main Street or whatever street you want to call in respect of the main city, that significant building and development is taking place, something that has not happened in this city and also in the country at large for many years. A dramatic transformation is taking place.
While this development is taking place in the private spaces of the citizenry and the business, outside the environs which are controlled by the Mayor and City Councillors, things are getting, as we all agree, from bad to worst; getting decidedly from bad to worst.
We cannot avoid speaking about the politics in this matter. The inescapable truth is and everyone knows this on the streets of Georgetown that the City is controlled by a Mayor and Councillors that is dominated and represented by APNU supporters and Members. This is an inescapable fact and the People’s National Congress (PNC) with the Good and Green Party (GGG) and the APNU, sometimes joined by the AFC perversely, whenever in this country Guyana, they come to a position of strength and of running things, things fall apart. In the City of Georgetown, in this Guyana there is no more prime example again of things falling apart. When they ran the country, things fell apart; the country fell apart and continually their running of the country, things fall apart to the risk of the citizenry and to the risk of visitors to the City.
Now the mover of the motion is perhaps crying tears, along with all of us too and saying how terrible it is. Somehow, by way of this motion and by its presentation suggesting that they too have nothing to do with it. That they have nothing to do with the fact that the City, its environment, the sewerage collection, the garbage and everything, they want to create an impression that they have had nothing to do with it, but they are the leaders, it is their men and women who are in charge in the City in Georgetown. It is their men and women, the relicts who are in charge in the City of Georgetown. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I will ask that you temper you comments. I have heard perverse associations; relicts. You made a reference of Mrs. Volda Lawrence crying tears, it bordered on suggesting that she was feigning an interest, but I understand your passion.
Mr. Benn: Thank you Mr. Speaker. In any event I am saying the energy, the ideas, the motive and force at City Hall; we know where it all emanates from. So the blame for things falling apart; the blame for the problems, the idea the lack of energy for doing things properly lies on that side of that House.
Let us speak about the koker since Mr. Harmon raised it and the Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine spoke about the length or the width of the kokers; [Mr. Ali: The size.] the size of the kokers. The reason the koker failed; the reason it got smashed as was described was because of negligence. The koker door was not closed again, for the second time in the year because of negligence by the operators. It had nothing to do with the strength or age of the koker door. For the Hon. Member’s benefit, the width of the koker door is eighteen feet seven inches. They are not all the same, many of them are twelve feet, but in fact when we discussed with the City Council in meetings last week with respect to the tides and the swelling we expected, we asked about the condition of the koker doors and the City Council and Town Clerk said that they were afraid of the Kingston Koker, that is the one further north of the one which failed and of the one at Riverview. But because they were not sure; first they did not have the wood to repair or to fit and we said we would get the wood and asked well should we cut it. Then they said it was different widths, so we said well do not let us cut it, let us wait so as to be able to respond to any problem.
It was thought that Ruimveldt and the one further to the north would have collapsed, but not out of negligence, rather out of the pressure of the swellings against the koker. The staff of the City Council, its general membership, its workers are beaten men and women. They are beaten. They are demoralised. They do not want to work. They speak and talk of things which are going on in City Council and then there are the reports. There are the various reports by Burrowes and others. There are in the reports, of what the goings on are. They are speaking of problems in the market with the constabularies. A little mafia is collecting money every week from the venders and from the people on Regent Street and other places and pocketing it and sharing it around. They speak of these things and so the ordinary worker is demoralised and does not want to work so it does not matter how many people one has there. They would not work for more than one or two hours a day; make pretence of work and so the problems of not getting to do effective work is that there is no belief in the leadership in the Mayor and the Town Council at the level of the workforce. One would not get it done. This is the reason the Government has persistently called for an Interim Management Committee (IMC) and I want to call for the IMC now. [Mrs. Backer: Headed by you.] No, I do not want to head it. I would put Mr. Granger to head it. We should have an IMC now.
The call in this motion should be for an IMC because if the APNU is prepared to have on Regent Street, at the entrance to the City Hall, themselves there since the last elections… If they advertise themselves at the entrance of the City Hall they should be prepared to take leadership there, properly. If there is failure in their leadership, in their men at the City Hall, they should be prepared to call and take the steps which would see change in City Hall. They hold Georgetown as their constituency and they should take leadership and action to help the situation since the citizens of Georgetown are all at risk.
There are a lot of attempts to denigrate the Government’s efforts in the city of Georgetown. The Hon. Member, Mr. Irfaan Alli, I think, is spending $1.4 billion to redo the sewerage in the city of Georgetown on behalf of the Government, of course. He is the Minister. Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member and Minister, Mr. Irfaan Alli, through his Ministry for all citizens to see, is redoing the sewerage lines and the pump stations…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, could we have some order please?
Mr. Benn: …doing the sewerage lines and pump stations…
Mr. Speaker: One second. Minister Benn, there is a Point of Order on the floor, I believe.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, there was a comment from the floor about a Minister putting all of the money into his back pocket.
Mr. Speaker: I did not hear it.
Ms. Teixeira: Well all of us at this end heard it, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, again let us refrain from making these comments.
Ms. Teixeira: It was said by no less than the Chief Whip, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: At the end of this night I can almost anticipate that the Georgetown City Council in block may very well want to write a reply to some of the things that have been said. Let us keep the debate at a certain level and avoid the…
Mr. Benn: Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you do not have to encourage the Georgetown City Council to write any letters.
Mr. Speaker: No.
Mr. Benn: They will write anyhow. They write all of the time but they do not do anything else but write.
Mr. Speaker: I do not know if they write. I do not read their writing.
Mr. Benn: Mr. Speaker, I have spoken about the restoration of the sewerage in the city of Georgetown; something that has not been done for over 60 years. We are aware that we have rehabilitated and closed the Le Repentir Dumpsite.
We have, the Government of Guyana, that is, has purchased what is now the mall on Water Street. I think that it was at one time called Toolsie Land. There was a dispute between Toolsie Persaud and the Government as to what the true value of the land is. The Government of Guyana purchased the land and had a mall/minimart established there. It is not being properly used.
The Government of Guyana closed the dumpsite at La Repentir and established the new Haags Bosch Waste Management Site. Of course both Mr. Trotman and Mr. Harmon did say, while presentations were being made, that one is supposed to do it. [Mrs. Backer: You mean ‘the Speaker’, whom you are talking about.] Mr. Trotman who is on the benches on that side... Of course the Government will intervene and get involved in situations when they get dire. The fact of the matter is that the situation is always dire in Georgetown. The fact of the matter is that the Government has constantly, every three or four months, intervened in cleanups in the city of Georgetown. Many times when there are particular events coming on, as we just had with Mashramani, and many times when there are international events coming on, but generally when it gets unbearable to the point as it is again now where somebody has to do something. It is unfair to the citizenry that moneys are spent and people are employed and no proper work is being done.
There are problems with garbage disposal. There is a problem, perhaps, with the issue of recapitalization of the trucks used to go to the dumpsite. The cycle time could be a bit longer than it used to be but the fundamental fact of the matter is the lack of enforcement with respect to garbage dumping. There is a city constabulary and if action is taken with respect to the dumping of garbage at known illegal irregular gorilla dumpsites action will be taken. “Gorilla dumping” is a term with respect to garbage dumping. There are gorilla dumpsites known all over the city and our Ministry had sat down with the Ministry of Local Government and the City Council. We have noted and have cleaned those cites from time to time but the people who are responsible for maintaining, enforcing and taking steps so that there is not a current or ongoing reoccurrence of this problem do not do their work. They do not do their work. They are distracted by other things.
Mention was made about the use of prisoners in the city for a cleaning up. The Ministry of Public Works has been using prisoners for about five years or more now. We pay them and we also feed them on Fridays and they have been a good labour force. They have worked well with us with respect to helping with the cleaning along the declared public roads and also with respect to the cleaning at some of these sites where dumping is going on. There are times when they are not always available but they have been a significant resource with respect to cleaning up garbage in the city. There is no way that we can continue to rely on the Mayor and City Councilors if they cannot keep their own house in order. The fact of the matter is that we could all point and see that the building is falling down around their ears.
The City Engineers have $20 million that the Government gave them with respect to doing work to start preparing that building. They have hardly spent any money. They do not intend to fix anything and they would not fix anything and if it continues that building will fall down; the landscape of the city will be fundamentally changed when that building falls down as the building at the Palms fell down many years ago. [Inaudible] That is the question that I wanted to pose to Mr. Granger and at least he has left. [Mrs. Backer: You like Mr. Granger, “eh”?] Mr. Speaker, I want Granger to lead. [Mrs. Backer: There is not “Granger”, “Mr. Granger, Leader of the Opposition”.] I want Granger to lead. [Mrs. Backer: What is going on?]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Deputy Speaker, I heard you say, “You like Granger, eh?”, “You like Granger”. When he said “I want Granger [to do something]” you object to it.
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, I am sitting.
Mr. Speaker: I know, but my sense is that he is responding to you.
Mrs. Backer: Then he has to sit down.
Mr. Speaker: With respect, you engaged the Member using the word “Granger”. He is on his feet responding to you. Both of you, in my opinion, are wrong.
Mrs. Backer: I accept that.
Mr. Speaker: You should have said, “You like the Hon. Member, Mr. Granger…” Indeed Members shall be referred to by their official titles. This is the Leader of the Opposition…
Mrs. Backer: He started it.
Mr. Speaker: …and we shall keep it that way.
Mrs. Backer: He started it. He did.
Mr. Benn: You meant “The Hon. Member, Robeson Benn”. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to be the one to prolong this debate. I believe that the amendments which are suggested with respect to the motion proposed by the Hon. Minister Robert Persaud are apt. At a personal level again I believe that we should call now for the setting up of an IMC and that an IMC should be proposed that we adopt that because we are not sure when the Local Government Elections will be held and we cannot continue to live in hope, given the past experience so I am suggesting that it is in everyone’s interest in this House and in the city of Georgetown to call for an IMC. Let us have an IMC now.
The Ministry of Public Works, through its Urban Roads Programme financed by the Ministry of Finance and through its miscellaneous roads programmes, does work every year at hundreds of millions of dollars repairing streets in the city of Georgetown, particularly. There is the cry emanating from the other side that there is never enough money. There will never be enough money if there is not production. There will never be enough money if the ways of doing things would not stand proper scrutiny.
There is a revenue base for the city. If there is only 50 percent collection who do we blame? If there is the recourse to the sale of properties for defaulters who do we blame for not selling the properties. We cannot have this complaint after all of these years of being in control of the city. We cannot have these complaints anymore. I would like to let us have a significant reality check.
We should not attempt to bring a motion like this to avoid the issue, to obfuscate the issue, to not state plainly what the facts are with respect to the city of Georgetown and so I want to support the amendments which are proposed. I have been saying that I am aware that the Committees of Local Government… There could be a joining of people who want to get involved in issues with that Committee. I believe that, by speaking with the Ministry of Local Government, we serve on that Committee as to how we could improve things in the city of Georgetown. With good will, with sincerity, we can have changes and a dramatic improvement in the city of Georgetown and I would like to join with my colleagues on this side in condemning the continuation of management of attitudes and personages with lead to the further degradation of the city of Georgetown and I want to encourage Members on all sides of the House to adopt the amendments proposed and also, of course, to consider the matter of an IMC. Let us have an IMC now and save the city of Georgetown.
I am glad that the Hon. Member, Mr. Irfaan Alli, is working on this matter of the sewerage because we have severe problems where the sewage after all of these years and failure of the pump stations has gotten into the canals along Lamaha Street and some other canals. It emanates and stenches all of the time. The Hon. Member, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, was talking about stench and we might note recently that there was an outbreak of cholera in Haiti and if we continue along this path… It does not matter how nice the houses that we are living in individually, now nice the space is within our own fences. The problem is outside on the road when we exit our gates and our yards so I am appealing to all Members in this House to confront the issue, problems and the personages at the City Hall so that we can have a change so that we can have a significant improvement in the way the city is run so that we do not just save the city but the citizenry and the visitors to the city, both national visitors and tourists. I am calling again for us to join up and to have a reality check here and frank and free admission so that we deal with this issue and so that we have progress and sustainable living in the city of Georgetown. I thank you very much. [Applause]