Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/20143671 10 Feb, 2014
Mr. B. Williams: In the first instance, Mr. Speaker, permit me to thank all the Members of the National Assembly who have supported the election of me as Deputy Speaker. It is going to be a difficult role to fill, coming after the Hon. Deborah Backer. In fact, it is going to be difficult for us to do without her because she certainly would have been settling my brother over there, the Hon. Minister of Finance, and giving him his right perspectives if she were here. She has a way of keeping him calm and, also, Mr. Neendkumar, who took the opportunity to stand up and represent the Hon. Minister of Finance tonight, something that would have been unthinkable if my sister were here.
I would like to identify with the presentations of the Hon. Members Bulkan, Trotman and Dr. Ramayya on this side of the House. This is the 17th year. It is an abuse of the process of this National Assembly and it is an abuse that must not continue: to come without let or hindrance to tell us another year, after giving us assurances, certainly at the advent of this Parliament - every year - that election is next year. There is the old aphorism that a promise is a comfort to a fool. I can assure you that we are no fools on this side of the House. You could fool the people some of the time, as my Brother Bob said, but you cannot fool the people all of the time. The time has come.
I have had to suffer through the presentations of the Hon. Member Whittaker and the Hon. Attorney General. I do not know if the Hon. Member Whittaker is elated that the Hon. Member Ganga Persaud is not on his back, but he has been making some statements here tonight, and I will deal with some of them but let me deal with my Hon. and Learned Friend, the Hon. Attorney General.
They seem to have these recourses into the past. We do not wish to be stranded in the past, not when we have up-to-date information. If my memory serves me correctly, in 2011, the Hon. Member Corbin and my Sister to my left, Madam Lawrence, had to leave Congress to go to GECOM because we noticed that something was wrong with the numbers they mentioned that were allocated to South Georgetown.
Talking about rigging elections in the past... It was pointed out to GECOM that 18,000 votes were missing because we were tallying within the house at Congress Place. Lo and behold, they found the 18,000 votes. Comrade Lawrence is here; she can tell you. They went somewhere and said, “Here, look the 18,000 votes.” What is rigging, Mr. Speaker? Do we call that rigging also? Then to compound it, there was some degree of barefacedness. A man had a simple task to ascertain 10 sets of vote; that is add them together. Any common entrance child could do it. Lo and behold, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) went to the venerable gentlemen on the Commission and said that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) won by 33%. Is that rigging, Mr. Speaker? What is it?
Mr. Speaker: Alright, Mr. Williams. You may speak to complication but you directly linked the previous CEO.
Mr. B. Williams: That is a fact.
Mr. Speaker: I would not want you to go there.
Mr. B. Williams: As it pleases you, Mr. Speaker.
Could I say, though, Mr. Speaker, that after being removed, he has found comfort working within the walls of the Office of the President (OP)? Could I say that? I do not know what they are talking about. Anyway, let us move on.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I am objecting. The Member is making all sorts of wrong allegations and charges. The gentleman is not working at OP as alluded to by the Hon. Member.
Mr. Speaker: Just to make a point, it ought not to be a charge or allegation to say that one is working at the Office of the President. It is as if it is akin to working in a prison. The point is: if it is that he is not there, he is not there. Mr. Williams, you are to note that the person whom you referred to is not working at the Office of the President and you need to accept that fact.
Mr. B. Williams: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The budget will be upon us shortly and they would have to bring the list.
If I could return to the Hon. Attorney General’s case, when he speaks about certain matters, it is clear that the Hon. Attorney General is sailing. He is a sailor on this issue. He said that the Task Force was established by the Hon. Mr. Corbin. He is completely at sea. He does not know what he is talking about and, therefore, he is in no position to tell the Hon. Members Bulkan and Trotman that they are newcomers because he does not know anything different.
We do not want to detain ourselves here responding to the Hon. Attorney General who, obviously, is out of his depth in this matter. Let me turn my attention to the Hon. Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. He has been really making himself large.
“There have been progress.”
That is what he said. What does he mean by that? [Mr. Nandlall: [Inaudible] has.] That is why I emphasise “have”. He is supposed to be our teacher. It is verbatim.
Anyway, he said he was building capacity and strengthening departments in local government.
Let me ask you to address your mind to the Linden Municipality, Hon. Member. You [inaudible]
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Mr. Williams, avoid those remonstrations. They are very strong. Who are we referring to? I may have to extend some protection. Is it the Hon. Member Whittaker or Nandlall?
Mr. B. Williams: It is the esteemed Mr. Whittaker. The Linden fiasco could in no wise be said to be capacity building. The Linden Town Council had a staff looking after the enforcement of a toll that was running for 11 years. The Minister himself cut out the toll. This led to the laying off of the workers who were enforcing the toll. Then he came to the House with some supplementary when he has been dealing with the issue for nearly two years in trying to get rid of the toll because...
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, I rise to correct the Hon. Member. I rise on a point of order. No member of the staff of the Linden Municipality had his or her service terminated or was dismissed as a result of the removal of the toll.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, that is a serious statement because the Hon. Member came with a supplementary provision here requesting us to approve moneys for the Linden Town Council workers who lost their jobs as a result of him terminating the toll. [Mr. Nandlall: No.] Yes. When I cross-examined him here, he admitted that.
Mr. Speaker: What date is that, Mr. Williams? I may very well have to send for the transcript. Were you cross-examined? Did I miss that at some time?
Mr. Whittaker: He asked me a few questions to which I responded and he accepted the responses. The supplementary funds which we sought and got approval for was to enable the Linden Municipality to meet the additional funds required to take some of the employees to the new minimum wage.
Mr. Speaker: We will have to send for the transcript because the contrast is too stark as to be ignored.
Mr. B. Williams: I can understand why the Hon. Member appears to be still dazed. After cross-examination, he went outside, sat down and asked for a drink and he confessed that the questions came rapidly and he really was not too sure of what he said. He confessed that.
The point of fact is that he came with a supplemental because the Linden Municipality could not pay any salaries and wages because of the loss of the toll. They used to collect the money from the toll; the Minister worked to get rid of the toll and he got rid of the workers in the process. That is what he is calling “building capacity”. I will bring the documents to show you.
Let us move on. Then, about the annual estimates he says he has a democratic process of consulting here and consulting there. Let me tell you: when we made certain arrangements in this honourable House at the budget time, we got an undertaking that for Region 4 certain roads will be dealt with. When we called the Regional Executive Officer (REO), he had a different list.
Mr. Speaker: Do you have a recording of that conversation?
Mr. B. Williams: I have the Regional Chairman, Mr. Corlette. Would they like Mr. Corlette to come?
Mr. Speaker: We are using a lot of legal terms – cross-examination, confession – and that could be hearsay.
Mr. B. Williams: This is a matter of fact. The list - and assurances - given to Parliament was not the list that the REO used to execute road works on the East Coast of Demerara. The budget is coming up now. We are saying this: our roads in our communities do not exist. There are no roads; there are no drains. Every place is flooded. There are gaping holes in the roads and they have not addressed those roads even though they indicated to us that they would. I say to you now that when you bring that budget, we will not be approving any budget to build roads unless we have a guarantee that the roads you undertook to fix on the last occasion have been fixed on this occasion, so take warning.
The Hon. Minister said that they were not being dormant; they were being active. What were they active doing? It was installing Interim Management Committees (IMCs). When they installed them, they never reset them in the ratios that they met them. That is what they did. That activity that they embarked upon was wholly unlawful.
Let me say this: they have one engineer in the department at the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and it has the second largest capital project to execute in Region 4.
The bridge down at Cane Grove broke down. That is how the Hon. Minister is being active and building capacity. [Ms. Teixeira: Bridges must not break down.] You built a bridge last month and it broke down. Are you condoning that, Hon. Member? [Ms. Teixeira: [Inaudible.] It is all over the country it is happening because the Hon. Member Harmon had to go to Moruka where the same thing happened. That is how the Government has been active.
What is holding up elections? The Hon. Minister is trying to suggest that GECOM is to blame. Years ago I spoke on this matter. GECOM is an independent body and the interference of Office of the President in the operations caused it to think that it could determine whether GECOM is ready for elections or not.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious allegation that the Member is making. It is a very serious issue. Our elections in Guyana have been observed by international observers. It has never been raised in any of the documents to say that Office of the President has interfered in the functioning of the GECOM. I challenge Mr. Williams, the Hon. Member, to find me which quote from which report states that.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Williams, could you qualify that statement? There have been concerns about GECOM having to go to OP for financing for different projects, for example.
Mr. B. Williams: That is correct.
Mr. Speaker: In other words, the context in which you said it... Could you qualify the statement?
Mr. B. Williams: GECOM was made a budget agency which was to reduce it from an independent status to a non-independent status. In other words, the budget agency was the Office of the President and no other than Dr. Luncheon. Dr. Luncheon had powers to deal with line items in the budget of GECOM. [Dr. Singh: That is not true.] That is a matter of record.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, Dr. Luncheon is not in this House to defend himself. Some of these statements are good for our press conferences, Hon. Speaker, but not for this House.
Mr. Speaker: A statement that an officer had the power to look at line items, I do not know that it is an offensive statement. It is not an imputation of any mala fides. It is just a statement. Mr. Williams, be careful as you make your statements.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, I am very careful.
Mr. Speaker: I have been aware of commentary about budgeting.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, you have shown a profound understanding of the issue. I am not imputing crime into Dr. Luncheon. It is a fact that it is a budget agency and the budget agency has a head. The budget agency, over the years, from my experience, could determine whether it is going to buy stationary or whether it is going to put in the biometrics. Dr. Luncheon had line control over those items.
We had the occasion in the previous Parliament to comment on the fact that GECOM must remain independent. We cannot have an Attorney General coming and telling us that GECOM is not ready. How could he speak for GECOM?
We are saying that every year - 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014. We are saying that they cannot keep pushing it on to the next year. The time for empowerment of the Guyanese people has come and they have to do it. We have to empower them. We are saying this: we are not going to postpone the election for another year.
The Minister said this:
“Key legislation for reform has been passed.”
Is that enough? Is passing the legislation enough? The legislation came unanimously out of the Special Select Committee. It was passed unanimously in this House and only three have been assented to. The three Bills which have been assented to have not been activated. It is not simply passing them. They have to be operationalised. I want to put on record that to operationalise those three Bills would not take half a day. The Minister’s Order could flow within a matter of hours and there could be a special extraordinary publication of the Official Gazette to publish the two other Bills that were assented to by the President.
It is mind-boggling that the President appoints his Ministers who are his creatures. He assents to the Bill. If the President assents to three Bills, it means he is sending a signal that he wants those Bills to be passed and become operative. How could a Minister buck the President? How could the Minister not act when the Local Government Commission Act states that it must be operationalised by Order of the Minister? Why has the Minister not passed an Order up to now? It seems to me that there seems to be grave problems in Robb Street. It seems to me that there are grave problems in Office of the President. If a President assents to the Bills and the Minister is not operationalising the Bills, there must to be some problem.
I want you to take warning...
Mr. Speaker: Who is this warning going to?
Mr. B. Williams: The Hon. Member Whittaker must take warning. I believe the former Member, Minister Persaud, was dismissed for that. He should take warning and operationalise those three Bills quickly.
Mr. Speaker: The record shows that Mr. Ganga Persaud resigned his position. Just be cautious.
Mr. B. Williams: I am not talking about the record. I was giving my opinion on the matter.
Mr. Speaker: Your opinion is that he was dismissed. It is official that the Hon. Member resigned. Please note.
Mr. B. Williams: That resignation might not have been voluntary. I do not know if they have pre-signed resignations. What I liked about that incident was, like us, they on that side did not know that the event had happened and it must be very troubling for my Brothers and Sisters on that other side because they do not know who is next.
My advice to you Hon. Member Whittaker is to operationalise the man’s Bills before there is a surprise in here.
On a more serious side, the fourth Bill that was sent back can be put with the others – the Supreme Court Bill and the two Fiscal Management Bills – that were sent back without his assent. The rules state that within six months of them being returned to you, Mr. Speaker, we could go by motion with a two-thirds majority and present it to him again. The point of fact is though, none of those Bills have ever been brought back to us in this House for us to examine the reasons the President proffered for his non-assent.
In India, for example, when the President sends it back with his message, it goes back to the Parliament and the Members examine it to see whether they could resolve the problems that the president experienced in causing him not to give his assent. We are saying that though the Constitution is silent about the mechanism to bring it back to us, Mr. Speaker, being in control of a procedure, you have the power to bring those Bills back to the House so that we could look at those Bills and see whether we could resolve whatever apprehensions the President might have been labouring under with respect to those things.
The reasons the President gave related to three specific provisions. We are saying that there was a mistake in relation to the first one – section 6 of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill. [Mr. R. Persaud: Which one are you referring to?] It is the one which he sent back. I am talking about the letter that he sent to the Speaker with the reasons attached. [Mr. R. Persaud: I am trying to stay with you.] Yes.
He is saying that he has problems with clauses 6, 13 and 14. We are saying that we do not have a problem relinquishing those clauses. [Mr. Neendkumar: Only you said so.] We have said that publicly. What is the mechanism to get it back to us so that we could look at it and say that we do not have a problem with these three clauses and that we are prepared to relinquish them?
For example, section 13 states:
“The Minister shall have and may exercise in any village or country district any or all of the powers of a local authority whenever it appears to the Minister expedient so to do, and may exercise any or all of those powers in any of those districts, whether there is or is not a local authority thereof.”
This is what they wanted to remain in the Act. This is the Local Government Act. This would fly in the face of the constitutional reform provisions. Look at what the Minister is doing right now. The Minister is dissolving and setting up Interim Management Committees (IMCs) and doing all kinds of things. One could imagine that in a reform system the Minister retains his power to take over an entire local democratic organ. Where are we going? It would be a retrograde step. We are saying no to that. The Minister cannot have this power. If it is anything, we will give the power to the new Local Government Commission. That is what we did. So, what went to the President are clauses 13 and 14. Clause 14 states:
“(1) Subject to this Act and the by-laws the Minister shall have the superintendence of all village and country districts in Guyana, and shall have and exercise general powers of supervision, inspection and control over the several local authorities and the officers and the servants thereof.”
He is an emperor. This is an emperor.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. B. Williams, when was that section passed into law?
Mr. B. Williams: This is an old section, since 1950. We have reformed it. They want to hold on to it. We are saying no; we cannot allow that. We had to change this and put instead of “the Minister”, “the Local Government Commission”. That was what went to the President. So the President is saying…
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order. I know that my Friend gets excited. Sometimes, even as the Chairperson of the Special Select Committee on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, for the last two nights I have had to spend with Mr. Williams, I realised he gets mixed up with the recall issues. What was brought to this House was a brand new Bill called the Local Government Commission Bill. It repealed the other pieces of legislation and was a brand new Bill. It was not an amending of the Bill, which the Hon. Gentleman is talking about. It was a brand new Bill. By the way, there was only one section where there was a vote. The rest of it was fine. When it came to this House, it was passed. I do not know why the Gentleman is misinforming this House.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the Hon. Member be caused to withdraw that statement. I am reading from a letter sent by the President as to his grounds for refusal. That is what I am reading from. I am asking that she withdraws it.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, the President assented to that Local Government Commission Act. It is the Local Government (Amendment) Bill that the President did not assent to. That is why I said the Gentleman has a problem with recall.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, could the Hon. Member withdraw her statement. She is grazing. I told her a long time ago…
Ms. Teixeira: Do I look like a ‘she’ to you? I am an Hon. Member.
Mr. Hinds: May I ask what is grazing? I heard a term ‘grazing’ I think.
Mr. Speaker: It is a lawyering term. It is a term of art in the legal profession, not a farm… Mr. Williams, if there is any disagreement, I do not think that the Hon. Member was trying to suggest that you… I think the Hon. Member was just really saying that you were speaking to the wrong Bill.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, that is inaccurate. This is the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012, which the President gave his non-assent to and sent back to you with a letter.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, what I would ask is that we just proceed. Let us avoid making personal statements or implications against each other and let us get through this evening as quickly as possible.
Mr. B. Williams: This is what the President’s letter states that Clauses 6, 13 and 14 are therefore in collision with and ultra vires the Constitution.
He referred to the fact that under article 78A of the Constitution, Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission, the composition and rules of which empower the Commission to deal with it as it deems fit, et cetera. He said that these clauses in their current construct confer upon the Local Government Commission powers, duties and responsibilities beyond and in excess of those granted to the Local Government Commission by article 78A. That is what he said: it ultra vires the Constitution. He stated that many clauses which are contained in Bill tabled by the Hon. Minister of Local Government and Regional Development were deleted. This is what he is talking about, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill. We are not talking about the Local Government Commission Bill.
Mr. Speaker: Very well.
Mr. B. Williams: What I read here is from the Local Government Act, which was under review in the Bill that was before us. What we said is that we were not going to leave the power in the Minister. We are going to give that power to the Local Government Commission. That is what went to the President. That is why he is saying that we are giving the Commission more powers than what are in the Act.
Mr. Speaker: Let us proceed and get this Bill through. We have another one to go.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, you probably would need to go to law school to appreciate that kind of argument.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams, let us move on.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, what we are saying is that in the new construct that we have for the local government architecture in reform, we do not need the Local Government Commission to have power to take over an entire Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), Municipality or else. So, we could relinquish that. If this is what is troubling the Hon. President, then we could relinquish this. It has to come back before the six months expire.
Mr. Speaker: I should say to the House that I wrote to the Leader of Government Business, the Hon. Prime Minister, and a reply came from Dr. Luncheon saying that the Government had no intention of recommitting the Bill as per the article of the Constitution. [Ms. Teixeira: [inaudible] bring it back.] The Government introduced the Bill, so I would have thought that it would have been the Government to bring it back.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, this Bill was returned to you on the 14th November, 2013.
Mr. Speaker: Thereafter, I wrote to the Hon. Prime Minister asking for the Government’s intention vis-à-vis the provisions about it being recommitted after six months. A response has come from Dr. Luncheon saying that the Government has no intention of recommitting the Bill for consideration.
Mr. B. Williams: It has to go within six months, but the six months have not expired.
Mr. Speaker: No.
Mr. B. Williams: So, it is the 14th November. The six months are going to expire on the 13th May, 2014.
Mr. Speaker: You can bring it and have it here waiting to go. It does not matter.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, could I suggest, like in the Parliament of India, when it is sent back, it is brought back to us here in the House for us to look at it to see what the problem that is troubling the President is in the message sent by him? As I said, when we looked at it, it is not a problem anymore. We are willing to relinquish that. So, it will remove the…
Mr. Speaker: I will discuss with the Clerk. The Clerk and I were searching for a mechanism as to how to get a Bill that has already passed through this House back on the Order Paper.
Mr. B. Williams: It states that by motion it could come back.
Mr. Speaker: We would have to look at it. Thank you.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, it is by motion, the Constitution states, which must get a two-thirds vote. So, if it comes back by motion, we would debate it. We are saying that we are prepared to relinquish it. Let us see what the Government’s side says. We are trying to remove this impediment to empowering people in the communities in which they live. I suspect, Sir, that we are going to put them under test. We are saying that we want to go forward. Let us see what the Government wants to do. We expect that we will have a motion with the Bill in this House shortly.
Just in case the Hon. Member, who is seated and squeaking, the Hon. Chief Whip over there, does not understand it, if the Bills do not come back, they would have Bills floating around which are not going to touch ground. So, it is the same thing.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I was hoping not to say this on the floor of this House.
Mr. Speaker: Do you have to, whatever it is that you are about to say?
Ms. Teixeira: I would like to because this weekend has been an extraordinarily educative weekend. I think this House and the laws of this country talk about abuse. I had been subjected personally to an extraordinary amount of abuse as the Chairperson of the Committee. Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer the Hon. Member to article 170 (4) of the Constitution, where the Bills that the Hon. Gentleman is referring to - and I am glad to hear that the Hon. Members is willing to sit down and look at what the issues are… Article 170(4) states that any Member could bring it to the House with a motion and once you get the two-thirds vote, the Constitution provides for a mechanism. So, you have to bring the motion to the House within the six months.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams just said that actually.
Let us proceed and wrap this debate up please.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, could I not be interrupted again? One does not have to go to law school therefore to understand what the issue is. If the President has a problem with these three provisions, we are saying that they are no longer a problem. Therefore, let us get the motion to bring it back so that we can say that on the records and let us see what the Government’s side has to say on why they are holding up the entire process of local government reform. [Mr. Nandlall: You have to initiate the process. The motion does not drop out of the sky.] In that context, the Government has evinced a clear intention not to have local government reform or local government elections. That is what is happening. They have no interest in that. They want to maintain the status quo where the Minister rides roughshod over the local government system, where he employs staff in municipalities, where the elected mayors and councillors cannot get their business done, but is subverted by the people that they have employed. The Local Government Commission would take over all the employment. That is why we are having a problem.
I am saying that if a simple thing such as operationalising the three Bills cannot be done since November, 2013, how could we, on this side, in all conscience continue support Bills brought by the Government on that side?
If there is an effort to ensure that there is a meeting of minds in these matters, we are ready, willing and able to use every means necessary to do the people’s work. Therefore, having done a proper perusal of the Bill before us, we have proposed, under the hand of Hon. Member Bulkan, an amendment. We are saying that we are not prepared to adjourn elections for another year. That is our first point. We are saying further that we are demanding local government elections on or before the 1st August, 2014.
Mr. Speaker, at the appropriate time, with your will, we will ask that this amendment be put to this honourable House because it is under the hand of Mr. Bulkan. He could speak to it at that time, Sir. Without more, I would like to say in closing that the APNU would not support the Bill that is before us, but we will support the Bill as amended by Mr. Bulkan’s amendment.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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