Local Government Elections and You!

By Neil Kumar, Mr. S & Mr. A

The recent GINA Press statement by Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, regarding the non-attendance of Opposition-led Local Government Areas to a meeting of the recently formed National Regional Development Consultative Committee (NRDCC), is not only amusing and farcical, but also insufficient to camouflage his ineptitude.
In fact, the advancement of this forum in the absence of the establishment of the Local Government Commission, must be seen for what it actually is, and in the context of its real clandestine intent. Purposefully, the Coalition Government through this Minister and his usually shallow statements, seeks to shroud undelivered promises, while attempting to usurp the functions of the Commission.

The ‘Gap’ he refers to, ‘between the tiers of governance’ is one being created and widened by the government by the non-establishment of the Commission. The situation is akin to putting the cart before the horse, by virtue of his decisions. According to the Local Government Act 13/2012, The Commission’s functions, outlined at clause 13. (1) of the Act, are as follows;

“The Commission shall have power to deal with all matters relating to the regulation and staffing of local government organs including employment and dismissal of staff and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs, and in particular shall –

a) monitor and review the performance and implementation of policies of all local government organs, including policies of taxation and protection of the environment;

b) monitor, evaluate and make recommendations on policies, procedures and practices of all local government organs in order to promote effective local governance;

c) investigate any matter under its purview and propose remedial action to the Minister, whenever or wherever necessary;

d) monitor and review all existing and proposed legislation, and or policies and measures relating to local government organs and to make recommendations for any legislation or any amendments to any legislation and or policy to the Minister;

e) examine and propose ways of enhancing the capacity of local government organs.”

In addition, the Commission will oversee not only municipalities and NDCs but also Regional Democratic Councils as well as Amerindian Villages. The Act states, at Clause 13. (5):

“In the discharge of its functions the Commission shall have regard to the provisions of the Municipal and District Councils Act (Cap. 28:01), the Local Government Act (Cap. 28:02), the Local Democratic Organs Act (Cap. 28:09), the Amerindian Act (Cap. 29:01), and any other provisions bearing on matters of local government.”

Based on the foregoing, the Commission, once established, will take over most of the current oversight role exercised by the Ministry of Communities. The Ministry, therefore, will no longer have the ability to degrade the capacity of local government organs which will now be able to exercise executive authority in keeping with the autonomy guaranteed by the constitution.

It follows therefore, and very clearly, that the representatives of the Commission who are appointed on the premise of selective balance and fairness, are the persons who should be facilitating the engagement with the representatives of the Local Government Areas, and also, the persons with whom Government should be speaking in the context highlighted by Minister Bulkan.

Bulkan and central government must recognize that while consultations are always meaningful, his philosophy of meaningful pursuit in the Guyana context, lacks the demonstrated commitment to implement the constitutionally approved institutional mechanisms, that is foreseen to guide the means towards desired outcomes in an unbiased way. Further, it is highly unlikely that the one-off annual meeting of this NRDCC forum, will sufficiently inform plans regarding the harmonization of the diverse developmental plans of each region and NDC, with the national strategic vision.

This is a role and within the mandate of the Local Government Commission, which would be required to continuously advise Government on, as well as provide recommendations according to the requirements set out in the Act.

Currently, The Local Authority Areas continue to be subjected to the wrath of the Ministry of Communities, especially those that the People’s Progressive Party has won at the March 2017, Local Government Election.
Despite the Local Government(Amendment)Act, 5 of 2015, which gave the Local Authority Areas some leverage to expend more monies without the approval of the Ministry of Communities and submit their Estimates of Income and Expenditure along with request for subvention funding, in accordance with the Council’s decision, without any interference from the Ministry, yet much is left to be desired as the Regional Executive Officers, who are pro APNU/AFC are working and giving directives to the Local Authority Areas, contrary to the enacted amended legislation.

In the exercised system, the Regional Democratic Councils are legitimately responsible for the Regions; thus the broad-based responsibilities extend to the Local Authority Areas within those Regions. APNU/AFC controlled Regional Democratic Councils, are biasedly discriminating against NDCs that are controlled by the People’s Progressive Party’s Chairmen or Mayors. These Councils are experiencing the brunt of the APNU/AFC Government negative decisions regarding delays in approval to execute projects within its ambit, and the approving or consenting to provide funds for projects development.

In many cases, the REO in the Regions are not budgeting funds for infrastructural development works in the Local Authority Areas and even if funds are limitedly approved, then those funds are allocated the Councils that are led by APNU/AFC Chairmen and Mayors. It is also of note that the negative strategic policy of the agents of the Government not limited to these regional manipulations.

Some Local Authority Areas are not collecting enough taxes to cater for overhead expenses and employment costs, much less to provide services to the residents and community at large. At the same time, the residents in many communities are continuously burdened to pay for their own garbage removal and other necessary services that should be provided by the Local Authority Areas.

This column is calling on the Ministry of Communities to provide the necessary funding and support for these cash strapped Local Authority Areas or provide additional subvention funding to support the Council’s re-current expenditures or include in their own budgetary estimates, allocations for maintenance and services projects.
With the Local Government Commission in place all staffing and employment issues and concerns of indiscipline would have been addressed. But like everything else the APNU/AFC Coalition Government is showing no care for the poor services meted out to the residents