Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill3331 07 Feb, 2013
Mr. G. Persaud: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise to move that the Local Authorities Elections Amendment Bill 2013, Bill No. 3 of 2013 be now read for a second time.
When I brought last February, to this House, a similar Bill I thought then, based on the sentiments expressed, that that would have been the last time that such a Bill would have been presented for discourse here. However, subsequent events would have proven me wrong so I am here again requesting a very simple amendment and that is to substitute “15 years” with “16 years” so that we can have the necessary legal framework which is presently at the level of our Select Committee in Parliament be concluded and decided upon to facilitate the holding of Local Government Elections.
I do not envisage any difficulty in the House’s approval for this amendment because we are fully aware there as to why this amendment is here with us again. I wish to assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the Ministry of Local Government, on behalf of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) Government, is anxiously awaiting the deliberations and the outcome of the four Bills that are at the level of the Select Committee so that we can have, at the level of all 71 Local Democratic Organs, elections that can once again facilitate and allow our citizenship that opportunity to elect leadership at the local level.
We have heard many reasons being advanced about us not being able to have Local Government Elections which were constitutionally due in 1997 and still due as of today’s date, so I do not which to repeat the statements that would have been made annually from then to now but just to urge that we should all seek to endeavor to complete the business with regards to these pieces of legislation so that the year 2013 will see the holding of Local Government Elections. I therefore wish to urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to let us give our assent to this amendment and let the work continue at the level of the Select Committee. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mr. G. Persaud (replying): Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I wish to acknowledge the contributions made by all the Members who would have spoken on the proposed amendments.
A few things seemed to have been the common theme from one side of the House and that is why are we, at this time in 2013, seeking to bring this amendment, which we would have been bringing over a number of years, to this National Assembly. The reasons seem to vary from speaker to speaker and sometimes one gets the feeling that we are talking about different things at the same time.
Local Government Elections after 1994 were constitutionally due in 1997, but because 1997 was the year designated for General and Regional elections, the Local Government Elections had to give way. The aftermath of 1997 General and Regional elections resulted in the Herdmanston Accord. I am trying to be brief. That, in itself, would have resulted in the agreement which saw the establishment of the taskforce. It was very clear that the holding Local Government Elections depended on the work of the taskforce. It was somewhat disturbing to have heard at least one member of that taskforce, who boasted about being on the taskforce and I being there, providing ... [Interruption] drinks and cakes. Mr. Speaker, for the records, I held equal rights as that Member on the taskforce. I was a member of the taskforce, until the taskforce closed its doors on both of us.
Mr. Speaker: You are not denying that you were a purveyor of drinks and cakes though.
Mr. G. Persaud: I was just being kind to some people who do not know what kindness is and they do not show their appreciation... [Interruption] It seems as if being humane is a crime in the books of some people and they sought to dehumanise kind acts, but what can you do.
As I was saying, no way could have any political party, particularly, the governing party could have been held responsible for the aftermath of the General and Regional elections in 1997 which resulted in that Accord being broken and Local Government Elections being capped as, put on the burner, until the work of the taskforce.
The work of the taskforce was not completed, it was aborted and because of that, after taking from 2001-2008, the works of the taskforce then were presented to this Parliament in 2009. It was from them that this our Parliament, all of us seated here, who are in the Tenth Parliament and who were in the Ninth Parliament and are here again in the Tenth Parliament, should take responsibility. I was surprised to hear some Members speaking on this amendment, chastising themselves for having kept these four Bills here all this while through.
We cannot hold Local Government Elections still because of a principle position that was taken between the major political parties and we blew hot and cold air this evening. The very Hon. Member, Mr. Williams stood up and said, “You all are not holding the elections” and then in the very next breath, “You all cannot hold it because you all are going to breach the commitment that we made.” Mr. Speaker, I do not know if this term is unparliamentarily, forgive me, but that is hypocrisy at its max.
The situation of where we are today and the reason why this amendment is before this House is in the brief sequential way I have just outlined. Some of us seem to take pride and feed from walking on parallel pathways that are somewhat distance from the truth. And so we have heard and we have been treated to an abundance of that from some speakers this evening, particularly the Hon. Mr. B. Williams. [Mr. B. Williams: Wrap up now.] That is very nice I am just warming up Sir because of all the things that I have to respond to.
Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to disappoint anyone who would have spoken on this Bill, so the first bit I am responding here to is on a request from the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan, who asked that in my response I will give the reasons why this amendment is coming back to this House today and now. I really want to be respectful to the request of the Hon. Member and I will not disappoint him. In this process we heard of the formation of IMCs and person running around like headless chickens and so on ... [Mr. Harmon: And Nicodemus.] And Nicodemus and all of that and some revealing statements about people’s votes ought to be counted and the democratic culture of allowing persons to participate in electoral and democratic processes. These were all statements that were made here and it seems as if from 1968-1985 those statements were not statements that were applicable to our country then, so people’s votes and people’s rights and things to be counted... What we are doing and what this Government has been doing over the pass eleven years, in establishing IMCs, are in keeping with the law and each procedure, step by step. These are learned ladies and gentlemen and Hon. Members of this House, many of them are very much schooled within the legal environment and so I do not think they will have any difficulty in checking the legal framework that governs local democratic organs and to satisfy themselves that every aspect with regards to us trying to renew Local Government and Local Governance are in keeping with the law.
With specific reference to Kwakwani, for two years that NDC was without a quorum. The chairperson resigned. The community requested by way of letter/petition that a hearing be held. That hearing was publicised twenty one days before, as is required by law in the newspapers. Notices were placed at the NDC offices and so based on the law it is the Minister. My good Hon. Friend will know that, you cannot have persons in whom the authority is not invested legally to seek to assume such authority. It is the Minister who is responsible for naming the commissioner and that is what we do [Mr. B. Williams: The side kicks.] You call it what kind of kicks it does not bother me, you know of those things.
The hearing was publicised. It was conducted. Residents turned out in large numbers and participated in that hearing so I cannot understand how it would have been secret. I wanted that to be noted. There is a similar situation across. I have heard about the story in Bartica. I do not know where the discontent is but what I know is residents across the Bartica community are extremely pleased and happy that the Neighbourhood Democratic Council, through the IMC, is providing services that they had not for a number of years.
The next issue that was ventilated here by more than one speaker was that this Minister contributed to the delays in these Bills being presented late to the National Assembly and also by the Chair of the Select Committee, the Hon. Myself, is being accused of convening a meeting on 20th December to select the Chair. That cannot be. The person who… [Mrs. Backer: The Hon. “Myself”] Yes. …is the authorised person to so constitute a meeting of that Committee for the purpose of electing the Chair rests with you, Sir, and you called us together first and when we met for the first time you will recall, Sir, that there was a deadlock with 4:4 and you, Sir, invited us again on 20th December because we were informed at that meeting that that was when the Hon. Member who was overseas would have been available. So it is, for the record and for the memory of some us… I cannot blame some people. God has gifted all of us but some of either use or do not use so we lose our memory very quickly. That one is very clear.
The other one: March, 2011, I must comment Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, for giving us a wonderful and excellent review of our discourse using the Hansard for 2011. I think that he has done a very good job and at least it should be more than a pass if rated. The Hon. Member said that the Bills were laid in July and August – a statement of fact. The Hon. Member failed to inform this House that what the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development sought to do was to work with the dedicated staff in the drafting department of the Ministry of Legal Affairs to incorporate into those documents all the work and agreements that would have been reached by Members who were seated on that Committee in the 9th Parliament so that would have brought to fore a tidiness in our work and for us, the present Members of the Committee, to benefit from the efforts, knowledge, expertise and discourse that took place by the Members who sat during the 9th Parliament in that Committee so it would have enhanced our work significantly but when it suits some of us our memory lapses seem to be extremely convenient.
Having said that the noted fact is that the Bills are laid and then I am extremely disappointed with the Chair of the Select Committee who sought to come here… I thought that we were reporting on the work of the Select Committee and at times I got glimpses that yes indeed it was the Committee on which I am seated. At other times I thought that I missed some meetings because what was being related here is far distant from what I knew took place in the three meetings.
I want to make this very clear. When the issue with regards to the media being present, the documents that were before us clearly stated that this meeting was not open to the public and when the Chairman made a suggestion that the media should be involved the staff directed that this is not… This was in the presence of all of us. It has to be mischievous… It has to be an extremely wicked act to attempt to deceive the facts for whatever reason, I do not know.
I am not sure that the statement made that the People’s Progressive Party boycotted the work of the taskforce for four years is a statement that can be verified. I am not sure that that statement is a statement of fact.
We in the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government stated our commitment very clearly in 2011 and I wish to restate that commitment. This country needs Local Government Elections. In having these Local Government Elections there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and these issues are the issues that are in front of us here. It is easy to point fingers. At the end of the day, as someone would have said, the people out there know and they understand and so while we think that in here we will change the facts and we will seek to use propaganda to gain whatever political advantage we may see, I think that when this Assembly can deliver in a complete way the four pieces of legislation it is only then we can remove ourselves from any blame and that is a statement of fact. The legislations are here. We have to get it out and whichever political party we belong to the nation knows that from 2009 to now it is our responsibility; us here in this parliament. We can talk how much we want. It is us that are here.
I have heard the Hon. Member stating that the Government, if they do not get their way at the Select Committee, we are not going to make progress. May I remind the Hon. Member that the Opposition has five Members and the Government has four Members on that very Select Committee? I do not understand… [Ms. Teixeira: And they have the Chair.] Thank you, Mdm. They do have the Chair. The only problem is that we may need quite a few note takers and a few more tape recorders – not hidden ones – there because the memory problem I am not sure what cure we have for it.
I would have really liked to be given that opportunity to set the date for Local Government Elections. We must not forget this same argument went on in 2011 when this discussion on this very amendment was taking place. The then President said, “prepare for Local Government Elections”. The Guyana Elections Commission was put on high alert and in 2010 we were on fast track for the holding of Local Government Elections and it is the then Leader of the Opposition who made contact with the then President of this county and it was then that this agreement… [Mr. B. Williams: Hearsay.] It cannot be hearsay when the Hon. Member, Mr. Basil Williams, reminded us not so long ago, right in this House, that that agreement existed and was chastising us for not attempting to breach it.
Mr. Speaker, we were there on fast track. The claims and objections for having the voters’ list ready were undertaken in 2010. This Government, the PPP/Civic Government, maintained its commitment to the holding of Local Government Elections but because of our decency as a political party we had maintained our commitment to our political partners, although they are on the opposite side.
I am certain that if the Opposition wants us to hold Local Government Elections with the existing draft Bill still in this Parliament the PPP/Civic Government would be only too willing to so do. We would be willing to so do. We do not have any holdup on that. I am urging the Hon. Members who are seated here to consult with their political leadership and then let them signal to our President that we can go ahead and commence the preparation for Local Government Elections and let these four Bills take their normal course through. We are ready and willing.
In closing, let me once again thank all of the persons who would have spoken and to say that it is my fervent hope that this discourse, this time, we will all work together to ensure that next year we do not have to discuss an amendment to extend the life of our local government organs. [Mr. B. Williams: You said that last year and year-before-last.] Well I hoping and maybe praying that we would not have to do it again. I therefore wish to urge all Hon. Members in this House to give their approval to the requested amendment. Thank you very much.
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