Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 2 of 20122877 15 Mar, 2012
Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members, the PPP and the PPP/C Government have always viewed Local Government Reform and the need to have Local Government elections, as important not only for development, but also important for the renewal of grassroots democracy in our country.
We want to hold Local Government elections. We want to hold Local Government elections today; tonight. We want to hold Local Government elections so that we can bring much needed reinvigoration into the Local Government bodies and by extension the very communities which fall within the NDCs. For my friends, these elections would necessarily facilitate and accelerate the transformation and modernisation of local communities by, among other things, empowering the citizens to participate in the decision-making process.
We of the PPP/C have nothing to gain by postponing these elections. We have never feared facing the electorate. In fact, in every one of our manifestos since 1992 to present we have highlighted the need for the acceleration of the reform process and the holding of elections. For us, Local Government forms an integral part of our democracy and we have always been in the forefront of the fight for democracy in this country. That is why we have been agitating for these elections, Hon. Member. That is why we keep bringing the legislation to the Assembly and that is why we have been continuously calling on the Opposition, haranguing them, to work with us to move the process on and we will continue to do so. We will not abdicate that responsibility that we have to the Guyanese people.
The Guyanese public is not unaware of the political machinations of the Opposition. As they have said it is to stymie and to prolong the process. Albeit, the Guyanese people understand that while we have made tremendous progress as a nation, much of what affects our daily lives falls under the jurisdiction of Local Government. There is much that we can do and have been doing to address these matters, but my friends we have made progress, thanks to our determine efforts to move the process forward we have made progress. Important areas identified for reform have been addressed and the Hon. Member mentions them, the electoral system, fiscal transfers, in other words there has been consensus on some core Local Government Reform legislation. The Hon. Member refers to the introduction of constituency based Local Government elections; this is captured in the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to set the legal framework for the holding of Local Government elections under a reformed Local Government system - it is not that we have not made progress; it is not that we have not been working - and which allows for greater collaboration among and between political parties and civil groups. This will see elections being held in accordance with a mixed system, as the Hon. Member referred to.
The Local Government Commission Bill published in June 2009, this is another area on which there have been tremendous movement. The Local Government Amendment Bill which seeks to upgrade and amend the legislature relative to NDC’s and the Municipal and District Councils Amendment Bill which seeks to do a similar thing for the municipalities.
My friends, the other area of Local Government on which we have made much progress has been in the Fiscal Transfers Act and in passing, the Hon. Member spoke of this. This is an objective system for fiscal transfers and revenue gathering, which uses an objective set of criteria in a formula to determine what each Local Government body gets from Government each year. In other words, this Act seeks to give more autonomy to local democratic organs and to enhance their ability to sustain themselves financially. The emphasis here is more on revenue collection, in other words, it is performance oriented. Local Government organs, my friends, will continue to be financed primarily by their own efforts with some subvention from Government, but using some objective variable determinacy. Meanwhile, Guyanese would again recall that the balance of legislation were at the conclusion of the 9th Parliament, at the level of the Select Committee and may I remind this House that the PPP and the PPP/C have not placed any impediment or encumbrance in the way of the Opposition then and now to prevent them from participating in the Select Committee process.
Local Government Elections
The implications of not having Local Government elections over a number of years are well known and in fact, it is evidence as we traverse the streets of our country, especially our city, daily. But it must be acknowledged that our Government has taken a series of measures to bring improvement to the lives of our people in the local communities even as we continue to open the door to the Opposition to join with us in advancing the Local Government legislative reform process. It does not appear that you want to; it appears that you prefer to stay on the sideline to ridicule and criticise. But friends, we of the PPP will continue to work to find a way not to allow your lack of participation from preventing us from moving on with this important matter of Local Government Reform and the holding of Local Government elections.
Another of the implications of not having the elections over a number of years is that we have had to in some instances, invite Public Servants to be part of the depleted Councils and to enhance the work of the Councils. It not that we are sitting on waiting until you are pleased to come onboard so that we can accelerate the reform process; we have been doing this and the existing legislation allows us to do this. To create IMCs (Interim Management Committees) in some instances of mismanaged councils that are dissolved. The objective here, and the Linden Municipality provides an example, has been to enhance accountability and transparency to improve the efficiency in the operation of these bodies.
Holding of Annual Internal Elections
The holding of annual internal elections is provided for in the legislation. That is, elections for Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairman and Deputy Chairman. Added to that is the fact that we have been reaching out to the NDCs, we have been reaching out to the municipalities and we have been having interactions with these bodies and with the residents that fall within the jurisdiction on development issues. Also, informing them and sensitising them on the reforms. The whole idea is, we of our own accord that are tasked with oversight responsibilities – that is at the level of the Ministry – of guiding these Local Government bodies whilst we seek to accelerate the reform process that will lead to elections, we have been reaching out to the NDCs, reaching out to the municipalities, helping and guiding them, so that they can deliver better quality services to the people.
Rotation of Staff
Rotation of some staff, allowed for in the legislation, is one of the measures by which we seek to have more efficiency and indeed the rotation has allowed us to see in some instances incompetence; in other instances some level of financial improprieties, etc, so that the desired results... It is not that we have been rotating staff outside of their Region, they have been rotated to the very next NDC in most instances and as I said it is allowed for.
These are only a few of the measures the PPP through the Government have taken to bring expansion. This is not about interfering, this is about guiding; this is about providing training; this is about exposure; this is not about interfering in the internal affairs. As we seek to bring about improvement in the quality of service that is delivered. May I add, not only do we reach out to these local bodies, but in many instances we receive them when they come to us, because we have a mandate to guide them and to assist them, so that they can perform at a better level?
It is not as if the absence of the completion of Local Government Reform and the consequential failure to have Local Government elections on the reformed electoral system has halted progress in the municipalities and the NDCs. They continue to receive their revenues and we continue to advise them on ways and means by which they can increase the collectibles; to advise them on ways on how they can engage the people who must have a say in what is done and also, on how they can record them.
Even at the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development we have moved to augment our staff, we have moved to build greater capacity among our staff so that we can help the municipalities, help the NDCs to better deliver the services that they are elected to deliver.
In addition, our plan training program, which will targets over 140 persons, drawn from the NDCs and municipalities and which will see these persons trained as appraisers to undertake valuation in the NDCs and in the municipalities, offer opportunities for increase rates and taxes to accrue to these bodies. When we add to this, the handing over of several more housing schemes which will result in several NDCs and municipalities receiving additional revenues, which they would be able to use to extend the services that they provide; these are some of the improvements that we talk about.
We at the Ministry, in keeping with our mandate, continue to support, we do not dictate to the NDCs, their efforts; we guide them. The budgets which they submit are based on interfacing, it is based on discussions with the persons within their municipalities and within their NDCs. Individually, in groups, in large numbers and we guide them. We continue to support the NDCs and the municipalities; this is quite apart from the subvention that we make available to them and the rates and taxes they collect, the market fees and the tolls they collect. Money budgeted under the RDCs (Regional Democratic Councils) are also for projects within some of these very Local Government bodies and Central Government programmes. Even before the Fiscal Transfers Bill would have been passed, already we at the level of Government have been assisting the NDCs and putting measures in place, which has seen in many instances their revenue base expanded. Not only rates and taxes, as I have said, tolls, market fees, rental facilities for the parking of vehicles, this is the kind of support we have been giving them in the interim.
We of the PPP and the PPP/C will continue to put the people’s interest first and to work to have these legislative reforms completed with the involvement of civil society and to have Local Government elections held. In this regard, the tripartite arrangement initiate by President Donald Ramotar is very pertinent, very relevant, and important as it provides um partite and appropriate forum for discussing and advancing the Local Government agenda. We need to come onboard; an invitation to come onboard and be part of that tripartite agenda.
Meanwhile, sadly, we are unable to hold elections, but we stand ready to move the process further. Where do you stand Mr. Opposition? Where do you stand Mdm. Opposition or where do you sit? The Guyanese people are watching you as they continue to endure. You owe it to them to behave responsibly. We have been behaving responsibly, we have been helping them.
We have been helping them to expand their revenue, to provide better service to the people, even as we try to cajole and encourage you to come with us so that we can finish the legislation and have the elections.
I implore you, on behalf of the Guyanese people, support the request contained in this Motion for a postponement of the elections, but that is only part of it. I want you to resolve to work with us. Work with us so that we complete the reform and we do not have to come here again as the Hon. Member requested. I want to help you to fulfill that request so that we do not have to come here to seek another postponement.
Mr. Speaker, I support this motion 101% and I ask you to give it 102% support. Thank you. [Applause]
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