Unhygienic capital Editorial
Stabroek News
July 9, 2004

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In our edition of June 30, we reported the Mayor and City Council's (M&CC) Public Health Department as having declared Laing Avenue Squatting area and Alberttown the most filthy areas in the city. In a stomach-churning report Laing Avenue Squatting area was cited as having several broken mains strapped with old tyre tubes and pieces of cloth, lying in drains filled with human excrement and other debris.

If the mains in question lie outside the yards concerned, they will come under the jurisdiction of the Guyana Water Inc, rather than the City Council. However, the Public Health Department had other concerns, such as refuse disposal, which certainly comes within the ambit of the Council's area of reponsibility. It was here that Alberttown came in for special mention. The award for the biggest garbage mountain in the city, apparently, goes to the resident of that ward, who the M&CC said had accumulated a pile of rubbish approximately ten feet high.

While these were clearly the most egregious examples of unhygienic practices in the capital, they are not, unfortunately, isolated cases. The M&CC mentioned how some citizens and business entities, more especially in the Bourda and Lacytown areas, continued to dump refuse indiscriminately. Even though some sectors were cleaned by the employees of the city council, it was noted that this did not inhibit certain citizens from continuing to dump.

While the details of what the Public Health Department had to say may be news, the general picture of a filthy city is not. Residents can see with their own eyes how run-down and unhealthy looking the capital is without the authorities spelling it out for them in writing. The sad thing is that it has not always been that way, although it must be admitted that anyone who can still remember the halcyon days is no longer in their first youth.

As it has done so many times before, the council has issued an appeal to citizens to cease unhygienic practices, and to work towards creating a litter-free and safe environment for all. But as we all know, exhortations and appeals to residents' better instincts, do not change public behaviour. If the M&CC wants people to begin complying with the bye-laws, it first has to enforce those bye-laws.

Where the dumping of garbage is concerned, for example, enforcement would not seem to be an insuperable problem, provided the local authority is prepared to draw up a plan, and allocate the manpower to execute it. The council's cleansing officers must be aware of which spots are favoured for dumping purposes, and can surely monitor some of them to catch the delinquents in flagrante. City Hall has said that it would be deploying more officers at strategic points in the city as part of its campaign against litter-bugs, although whether these will function as undercover anti-dumping sleuths was not clear. Until people start appearing in front of the courts, however, no headway will be made in any anti-litter campaign.

While it is within the current resources of the city council to do something about the dumping of garbage, that might not be the case where all its areas of responsibility are concerned. Does it, for example, have the human and financial resources to properly maintain the drainage system and the parapets falling within its sphere, in addition to discharging all its other functions effectively? While it is true that Georgetown has been poorly administered over the years, it is also true that it has not always been in receipt of sufficient funds for running a city of this size.

Of course, we all await some agreement between the parliamentary parties on the format of local elections, as well as on a formula for guaranteed central government subventions to local authorities. Citizens need an opportunity to go to the polls to vote in a rejuvenated council which will have the energy to tackle the endemic problems of the capital, while that council needs to be insulated from some of the politicking that has gone on in the past, and be sure about the quantum of revenue which it can expect. Those things still seem some way off in the future, but that is no excuse why the present council can't stop the major littering offenders from trying to turn the one-time Garden City into the dump-site capital of the Caribbean.