Gov’t keen to develop City, but will not throw money blindly at City Hall – President

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From the hiring of residents to clear drains and weed avenues and parapets to fixing roads, President Irfaan Ali Tuesday said the government is pushing ahead with a development plan for the city but will not throw money blindly at City Hall; in reviewing records from 2004 to now, the President said the Council provided no financial statements for 10 years and in the other years, the information provided could not be verified.

In a video statement released by his office, the President rejected Mayor Ubraj Narine’s accusation that he is starving the city of resources.

“Let me be very clear, this government cares tremendously about our city, but we will not allow ourselves to be used as a scapegoat in the City not fulfilling its responsibility and its mandate or in the city converting everything into political opportunism or a political football,” President Ali declared.

“…we are not going to allow the Mayor to get away with a statement like this.”

For one, President Ali said the government is fully committed to ensuring that City Hall is restored.

President Irfaan Ali (Photo: News Room/May 25, 2021)

“That is a project we have budgeted resources for… and we are going to work to implement that.”

While the City is not fulfilling its responsibility in the maintenance of the environment, such as cleaning of drains and maintenance of infrastructure, he said Central Government has embarked on a massive programme to develop the City. These include a macro plan for south Georgetown, cleaning the city of garbage, clearing drains and investing drainage pumps to help manage the city’s flooding problem.

“This is a responsibility of the City Council and the City Council continues to fail the people of the City,” the President stated.

But he said the government has seen the need to develop the city.

“These are necessary investment because as a government, the city reflects who we are as a country too.”

The President argued that Central Government cannot accept mismanagement of the city by the Georgetown Mayor and City Council and continue to plough money into it without accountability; he said the matter has to be addressed honestly and the government cannot shirk its responsibility to ensure resources are spent for the purpose they were budgeted for and to ensure there is accountability and transparency in the way the resources are spent.

President Ali noted that in accordance with the laws governing the City, the Council is required to prepare accounts yearly and submit these for auditing no later than four months after the end of the year.

“The Mayor and City Council of Georgetown has breached this provision and continue to do so,” the President stated.

Citing the records, the President noted that 2004 was the last year in which an audit was done and the Audit Office even then indicated, via disclaimer, that it could not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.  A similar disclaimer was issued in 2005.

For the period 2006-2011, there were no financial statements submitted, the President said and from 2012 to 2015, financial statements were submitted but the information supplied did not allow the auditors to express an opinion.

For the year 2016-2020, no financial statements were submitted, the President said.

In 2019, an investigation found that the City Council failed to remit workers’ contributions for NIS, Credit Union and GRA, and also failed to pay retirement benefits and gratuity to a number of workers. There were issues surrounding contracts, the waiver of rates and taxes, the rental of wharf facilities and the granting of leases.

He said that clear violations and breaches were found and yet Central Government continues to transfer funds to the City.

But the President questioned how much longer the City expects Central Government to continue to put up with the blatant disregard for transparency and accountability.

“There must be a time when these things have to be fixed, we cannot continue this level of mismanagement,” the President declared.

“As President, as a government, we want nothing short of an excellent relationship with the City but that relationship must not be one in which City Council blames us for their mismanagement… and one in which we must transfer money blindly knowing all of this irregularity exists.”

He said that in March this year, a special audit commenced and these same irregularities are popping up and yet the Mayor expects the government to keep ploughing money into City Hall.

“I just want to make it very, very clear – we want a partnership in the development of the city but we cannot allow the City Council to blatantly disregard what is out there in terms of its reporting responsibility and in terms of its fiduciary responsibility,” the President stated.

“I will not allow the Central Government to be used as a political football.

“Notwithstanding, all of this, we are moving ahead with a plan and programme to improve the welfare, wellbeing and living conditions and standard of the people of the City and those who use the city and we are sparing no resources in achieving this.”

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