I went to buy at the weekly Thursday market that is held at Merriman Mall. The vendors moved back to their original spot between Cummings Street and Orange Walk. City Hall has drastically reduced the total space of occupation. The market no longer runs from Orange Walk to Cummings Street. Only half the space is now available. It doesn’t touch Cummings Street any longer. The market has been reduced by half the size.  As to the actual square feet of each stall, it is insulting.
Merriman Mall is a long stretch of land. There is no shortage of spots. Were the vendors consulted? The fee for each stand went up by five hundred percent. The vendors rejected that but there was no compromise. This is the problem with Guyana. It has an enduring authoritarian culture. It also is a country living in a masquerade.
When the first Local Government Elections debate was put on at the Theater Guild, there was a press conference after. When questioned on the power of the Town Clerk, every LGE debater was in total agreement – the Town Clerk should be subordinate to the Council. Minister Ronald Bulkan says the Town Clerk is a servant of the Council that has power to administer the city. Yes and no. Council has legal jurisdiction over the Town Clerk.
The elected City Council cannot remove the Town Clerk if it passes a motion to dismiss him/her. There can be a vote of no-confidence, as what happened with Carol Sooba, but the Town Clerk can choose to ignore it as Sooba did. Only the Local Government Commission can remove the Town Clerk. There is no Local Government Commission so the power to effect changes at City Hall resides with the Minister of Communities.
But the caricature that is named Guyana lives on. When the Local Government Commission comes into being, the majority of its members are appointed by the President.
The masquerade lives on. It is like the University of Guyana. It is legally independent of central powers. But its chief, the Vice Chancellor, is appointed by central powers. It is like the Commissioner-General of the GRA. The office is independent of central powers but the Government appoints the Commissioner.
It is like the Police Commissioner. He is independent of the Government but the Government renews his contract. These are forms of farce, caricature and masquerade that we will be hidden when we spend the $300 million allotted to the 50th Independence anniversary.
If the City Council is to take its democratic place in a modern world, then it has to have statutory power. Why Guyana wants to have local government elections but in the capital city, the powerful office of Town Clerk does not come under the legal ambit of the elected councillors?
The councillors acting in unison cannot demand that he execute policies passed. Despite the amendments to three pieces of local government legislation, as it stands today, the City Council does not have legal jurisdiction over the Town Clerk. Should the newly elected Council request an extension of each stall on Merriman’s Mall, the Town Clerk can refuse such a request.
The Town Clerk’s office administers the by-laws of the City. It was that office that downsized the land space of the Merriman’s Mall. It was that office that built a paid car park on East Street that is totally deserted.
Interestingly, to avoid the cost of parking, ($380 for the first hours, then $180 for every additional hour), vehicle owners are parking around the outer perimeter of the construction. City Hall officials requested the police to stop parking there. The police refused saying that they will do so when it becomes a hazard. As it stands now, the structure is a cemetery.
It is the Town Clerk that is in charge of the City Constabulary. Here is where the power of the Town Clerk is graphically displayed. The elected City Councillors has no jurisdiction over the city police. They can complain. They can pass motions. But they cannot discipline. The brutal fact is that a powerful public office in Guyana, the Town Clerk of the Mayor and City Council can only be disciplined, suspended or removed by the central government.
One hopes by moral persuasion of the City Council that the Town Clerk expands the service area of those vendors. The size of those people’s stands is truly disgraceful. At the time of writing, I don’t know what the composition of the Council is like but I hope the results give Guyana a glimmer of hope. My fingers are crossed.