Why is it that we have poor services in Lae? All year we have had garbage banking up because there has been no proper and continuous garbage collection system. But there are a multitude of other services that are lacking which we are entitled to:
- Street lights that work
- Residential roads maintained
- Footpaths properly constructed
- Street and drain cleaning
- The foreshore cleaned and protected from erosion
- Stray dog collection
- Proper maintenance of the city rubbish dump
It’s because our City Authority, the Lae Urban Local Level Government (LULLG), has not been working properly. Now it has ground to a halt because of a dispute over who is the City Manager. The incumbent Manager Roy Kamen was suspended by the acting Provincial Administrator, who announced last week that the Lae District Administrator Robin Calistus would act in the City Manager’s place. Mr Kamen refuses to vacate his office and so there is a standoff; in the meantime everything has ground to a halt. Even the council senior management and staff don’t know what is going on.
In all this turmoil at the city hall, the forgotten factor is the stakeholders in the LULLG debate – the city residents and in particular the ratepayers. The ratepayers who pay Land Rates, Garbage Rates, Licencing Fees, Signage Fees, and Building Fees; all the rates and fees that basically keep the Council going aside from Government Grants and the GST rebate that is filtered down from the Morobe Provincial Government. And we have very little say in how the funds are spent and have to put up with poor administration and decisions.
There has been a long discussion over whether the LULLG should assume “Commission” status similar to the National Capital District, where the City has been separated from the Province and has its own Political Structure and Governor. The NCD Commissions’ fund base is boosted by receipt of the GST rebate direct, instead of being watered down by the Province. Indeed our member for Lae Open & Minister for Religion, Youth & Community Development Honorable Loujaya Kouza has indicated that she is pressing for Lae to become a Commission.
Whichever way the Government decides on the future of Lae, it must be operated by a well-run and managed City Authority – be it a Commission or a Local Level Government, with an adequate fund base.
The Private Sector has suffered accusations for years, that they are not paying the Land Rates and Licences, and that what are outstanding amounts to millions. We are not disputing these claims but argue in turn that it has become just about impossible to deal with the Council, who are unable to keep accurate records and have no idea of what is owed to them. This is because the licencing system and recording system is so complicated that it is just about impossible to maintain records and indeed to collect.
We have been at loggerheads with the Council since the Trading Licence amendments were introduced in 2005. These amendments were designed to substantively increase the revenue from Licencing fees for the council but they are so cumbersome that they are just about unworkable and revenue has most likely dropped as a result. Our recommendation to amend the laws to make them simpler has actually received support from a good proportion of the council management, but because of the internal problems, no change has been effected. We even suggested to the council our involvement to act as a collection centre for licencing, signage and land rates, if they changed to a less complicated licencing fee system. Again this was agreed to but was never taken that step further.
We certainly hope that the current dispute is resolved quickly and that the city is managed by and authority that will have as its first priority on again providing services to the city residents and ratepayers. The LCCI of course wants the authority capable of making the right decisions and implementing these decisions.