From garden city to garbage city

Business Page
By Christopher Ram
Stabroek News
October 24, 1999


Hooray! The garbage crisis in Georgetown has been resolved and life goes back to normal. The collectors have been paid and we need not worry about the problem anymore. Dream on! As usual we were apparently not embarrassed enough by the most recent episode of the soap opera of Georgetown for anyone to propose a permanent solution.

In the not too distant past this city was renowned for its outstanding architecture, beautiful tree-lined streets and well-maintained avenues and parapets. In more recenttimes visitors and our Caribbean neighbours have made it an object of derision. The President should declare a national day of mourning to draw attention to the extent of the crisis in Georgetown. '

Focal Point
The official residences of our President and Prime Minister, Parliament Building, the National Library, St. George's Cathedral, the National Museum, the Zoological and Botanical Garden are all located in Georgetown. While the rest of Guyana is of great importance, for many Georgetown is Guyana because it is the focal point of most activity as well as the seat of Government. Yet the conditions in and around the city have been allowed to deteriorate for a number of years and few seem to care.

The three main reasons for the demise of the once proud city are the absence of civic pride, the fact that it has been used as a political football by opposing factions, and the manner in which expenditures are financed. More realistic taxes and perhaps in some instances tolls can go a long way in narrowing the deficit in revenues often faced. Of course this must be accompanied by an improvement in services provided as well as proper financial management. We also lose much of the substantial tourist revenues that would be gained if our city could be made more visitor-friendly

Our society has become accepting of the declining standards which seem to be the order of the day. Boorishness and a breakdown of law and order that borders on anarchy in some sections of the society are now norms. Economic privation has done irreparable damage to many but is this reason enough for us to allow erosion of values? It is not unusual to see a vehicle, be it minibus or expensive car, being driven down the street and suddenly the window is rolled down and garbage nonchalantly tossed into the street. Everyone is also painfully familiar with the chaos around the area of the Stabroek and Bourda markets, Water Street and the car parks, and the street vendor problem.

Culture of lawlessness
All of this is the outgrowth of a culture of lawlessness that has been allowed to escalate to the point where it is out of control. No one is denying the right of individuals to make a living or ply their trade but it should be done in a manner that does not trample on the rights of others. Registered businesses should not have to battle with vendors for access to their premises, pedestrians should not be forced to the middle of the streets because pavements are clogged by vendors, and travellers should not be subjected to physical and verbal abuse by so called mini-bus "touts."

Meaningful change cannot be achieved without input from all levels of society to identify problems and arrive at practical, workable, compromise solutions. The restoration of civic consciousness is everyone's responsibility and a campaign to regain our lost dignity must be launched immediately. The starting point must be the revival of "Civics" courses in our schools, public awareness advertisements in the media and exemplary conduct from our political and business leaders.

Partnerships must be formed with all stakeholders: Government, municipality, police, mini-bus operators, street vendors, the business community and other citizens to generate solutions to the problems identified. It should be recognized however that nothing would be achieved if attempts are made to implement measures and no options are made available to those who will be affected by proposed changes.

Commuter hub
For instance, would the establishment of a new market, facilities for vendors, and a central hub for mini-buses all combined in the Durban Park area with other sites connecting commuters to various parts of the country provide a realistic alternative to the current disorder? It is insane to have every mini-bus system terminating in the center of the city. Perhaps a separate connecting terminus could be identified for Linden/East Bank and East Coast commuters thereby easing the congestion in the center of the city. If Durban Park is viable as a hub quick action is needed because soon it may not be available.

Garbage disposal
Payment to the contractors does not bring an end to the garbage problem which stems in large part from our "triple A" (Anything, Anywhere, Anyhow) attitude as a nation towards waste disposal. This could be corrected through a continuous campaign in schools and in the media to raise awareness.

The increasing number of unfortunate disturbed persons roaming the city in search of food often targets garbage left on the sidewalk for disposal. Perhaps it would make sense to move garbage from business places direct to the collectors' vehicles rather than placing it on sidewalks. Businesses should also be made responsible for the cleanliness of the pavement in front of their premises.

What it will take
These and other issues must be fully debated and once agreement has been reached, decisions must be enforced without compromise. Business Page does not pretend to have all the answers but is willing to contribute to the discourse. Some of the proposed solutions may appear extreme but desperate circumstances require radical measures. One need only can look to Port of Spain which used to have similar problems but which has undergone a dramatic transformation. It has taken political will, alliance of the various interests and enforcement to get to that point but its success is indisputable.

A country is usually judged by its capital city and Georgetown in its present state is not a place of which any Guyanese can be proud. It is still very much our business center and its facilities must be upgraded into the 21st century. Investors and investment is needed but the task of attracting them becomes infinitely more difficult if our capital projects a poor image.

Much of any visitors' time and their families' time must necessarily be spent in the city and therefore it must be transformed into a place where they feel welcome and secure. A plan of action needs to be devised to deal with crime, people of unsound mind, the high incidence of street dwellers, inadequate sewage and drainage facilities and poor roads.

The situation has been allowed to deteriorate for far too long and it has reached the point of being a national crisis which requires a unified approach. Neither Government nor the Municipality can afford to adopt a hands-off policy and must be pressured into dealing with what is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Every time there is opportunity for unified progress in this country it becomes bogged down in political posturing. On the one hand there is the City Council whose claims of being owed large sums are being negated by the other protagonist, Central Government whose ministers level accusations of appalling record-keeping, financial mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility.

Those issues do need to be addressed especially since it is perceived that both sides may have bases for their arguments, The situation must however be dealt with in a manner that places the good of our citizens and the country before partisan politics.

This is not the Government' s problem alone, everyone must play a role in the solution. Where is the sense of outrage? Do the squalor and filth of our surroundings not offend us? Who among us is not tired of lamely defending ourselves from the ridicule heaped on us by our CARICOM brethren and others as a consequence of the state of our capital? Let' s move together and reclaim our city. Carpe Diem!

(Ram and McRae)

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples