Local Government Minister, Ronald Bulkan on Monday rejected accusations by Georgetown Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green that he was meddling in Council’s affairs and instructing Council, through her, to adopt a new decision-making procedure in violation of the municipal laws.
“We can’t be fossilised with any legislation. We are in a new era now. We are in a new democratic environment and laws are made by man and not because there is no requirement in the law for an action, it means that we can’t, utilizing the democratic formula and principle, we can’t evolve with the changing times,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. He declined to say what could be done if the Mayor or Council defies central government’s expectations.
Describing Chase-Green as not only as a political colleague but a “comrade” in the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), he labelled her accusations “unfair and unjustified”. He wondered how the Council’s request for hundreds of millions of dollars for garbage collection and drainage and irrigation did not amount to intervention.
The Minister also dismissed the Mayor’s claim that he was interventionist in the work of the City Council in the same way as the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC). “This is why I was particularly disappointed that I could be accused of acting as my predecessors did because nowhere in the records you will be able to find that,” he said. In contrast, he said under the PPP, the minister would have granted approval and instructed the Town Clerk to “rubber stamp” it.
Asked whether the temporary prohibition of the use of open spaces for other purposes was not a contradiction of government’s stated position that it would not intervene in the work of locally elected bodies, he said that was “as a result of an overwhelming sentiment in the Cabinet that open spaces in the city should be treated with sanctity; that you must have a sanctity for Green Spaces” instead of constructing buildings.
The Local Government Minister declined to say whether the Mayor and Town Clerk’s actions have resulted in a loss of political support, but noted that he has intervened in the past because government has been harshly criticised for City Hall’s actions. “I have a responsibility. My Cabinet colleagues expect me to intervene where actions of the Council are deemed not to be in the best interest of the administration and subject the administration to ridicule and other unfavourable opinions,” he said. Bulkan recalled that in the past he had intervened when the Town Clerk had unilaterally removed Bourda Market vendors from Robb Street, and from outside the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). “Some of my colleagues may be unhappy that I am choosing to publicly call out some public officers and administrators but I have a duty and an obligation and a responsibility to protect the image of this administration as well as of the wider citizens and I don’t think I have any apologies to make because I am certainly not motivated by any malice or ill-will,” he said.
The Local Government Minister said he copied his letter to the Mayor to the General Secretary and Vice Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform because the Councillors in Georgetown are “largely there by virtue of the support they have from the number one political force which is the People’s National Congress Reform”.
Asked whether the Town Clerk and the Mayor were acting in the best interest of the People’s National Congress Reform, he said he operates “within a political structure and a political environment and I am not a free agent”. “Emphatically, unambigously no” was his response to whether he was sending a signal that he was displeased with Mayor Chase-Green’s performance ahead of internal Mayoral elections scheduled for March 15, 2018.
Bulkan signaled that he was concerned that land was about to be transferred to Taljit “who seems to have a predilection for gobbling up public spaces that are reserved for beautification and recreational purposes to convert to private housing development “. Taljit had come under the microscope by parliamentarian, Carl Greenidge, when APNU and AFC had been in opposition.
With regards to the Mayor’s accusation that he often intervenes in municipal affairs without first consulting or writing her, Bulkan said he wrote her only after a newspaper had reported on January 14, 2018 that residents of Bel Air Park had taken legal action to prohibit City Hall from transferring the playground to a contractor, Terrence Taljit to build townhouses for the mayor, town clerk, city engineer and medical officer of health. Further Bulkan said at that time he did not meet Town Clerk, Royston King or write Chase-Green until he received an email on January 20 from a cabinet colleague who stated that “another major issue waiting to happen”. That email, he said, had an attachment dated January 20 and authored by Damian Fernandes that accused Council of no consultation with regards to the use of the Farnum Playground. Bulkan said he told King that he would have been writing the Mayor about the Bel Air Ground and Farnum Playground issues and required all necessary documentation.
The Minister and the City Mayor are at loggerheads ever since he last week ordered Council to temporarily prohibit the use of open spaces, playgrounds and recreational parks for purposes other than which they are intended. The Local Government Minister admitted that his formula -a project should be placed on the agenda only if two-thirds of the Councillors decide it should discussed even if the constituency representative objects- was not written in law. The Mayor is relying on the Municipal and District Councils Act 28:01, but the Minister said there is there is the “overarching” Local Democratic Organs Act Chapter 28:09 which is influenced by Guyana’s Constitution as well as statements of representation, consultation and inclusiveness by President David Granger. At the same time, he conceded that his “guidance” was not entrenched in law. Bulkan argued that his suggestion was based on the democratic principle in which a constituency councilor should not be excluded and at the same time worthwhile initiatives that are blocked by a constituency councillor could be overridden by more than a simple majority. He said perhaps his approach and formula could be included in amendments to harmonised local government legislation.
The Minister used the opportunity to express his sympathy with City Hall at the passing of Councillor Junior Garret last week.