Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/20144824 10 Feb, 2014
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you Mr. Speaker. It is with considerable sadness that I rise to make my contribution to this Bill before us, from this particular position because, of course, it is occasioned by the absence and resignation, as we have heard, of my Colleague and dear friend, Mrs. Backer. We have already heard from the Leader of the Opposition a saying that Mrs. Backer’s shoes will be difficult to fill, but nonetheless behoves the trying that I can assure we will.
The Bill before us, Bill No. 3 of 2014, standing in the name of the Hon. Member the then Minister Ganga Persaud, who we have also heard a little earlier, is no longer the Minister, with effect from 31st January. A Bill that seeks to provide, yet again, for the postponement of elections of councillors of local democratic organs and a Bill which was laid in this National Assembly on the 16th January, 2014.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the Hon. Member, Mr. Whittaker a short while ago when he led off the debate on this Bill and the Minister said much, but I believe he said little. In fact, I would say the Minister’s words, when we examine the track record of the Ministry and the Government, were hollowed and empty. I would go so far as to say that the Minister’s words were hypocritical.
Allow me please Mr. Speaker, to look at some of the statements made by the Hon. Member... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Is there a point of order?
Ms. Manickchand: Yes Sir. I was wondering if hypocritical might be a word we want to use in this hallowed House, given our Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker: Was it said that the Minister was hypocritical?
Ms. Manickchand: His words are hypocritical, what do you call that?
Mr. Speaker: I would rule that a reference to a Member being hypocritical would be out of order so I will ask that it be withdrawn. The word hypocrite is in the list of words that is unparliamentarily and a reference that a Member is or has been hypocritical by extension would mean that it is imputing that the Member is less than honourable.
That is the basis of it that the honorific that a Member is an honourable madam or gentlemen is presumed and a reference to a Member being hypocritical in a stance or a position, does connotes that he or she is less than honourable. If hypocrite is one of the words that is not permissible, it would follow that the imputation of hypocrisy would not be allowed. The Clerk has so reminded me.
Mr. Bulkan: Noted, Mr. Speaker. As I said, those words were empty and hallow. It is not my intention to be churlish. I do not know if you would consider the words duplicitous to be acceptable to this Honourable House? But that is my sentiment when I examine the track record as I hope to demonstrate further on in my contribution.
Mr. Speaker, let us look at some of the statements that the Hon. Member Mr. Whittaker made a short while ago. The Minister started out by referring to the contribution he made last year, almost one year ago, on the debate on this very Bill that was before the House. What the Minister said to was that when he spoke one year ago, he spoke of the optimism of the PPP and he exuded then a commitment of the PPP to have Local Government Elections in the year 2013. The Minister went on reminding that the PPP has always in the forefront of the democratic principle. I listened carefully to the Minister, so whilst the Minister has spoken a year ago of his Government’s commitment to have those elections, the Minister did not proffer or offer this Honourable House any reasons why those elections could not be held in the year 2013.
The Hon. Minister said several other things. He said that the PPP/C Government has nothing to gain by not holding these Local Government Elections. I propose to offer reasons and examples to the Hon. Minister as to why it can be seem that it is in the interest of the Government not to hold these elections. Mr. Speaker, among other things, the Hon. Minister asked the rhetorical question. He started out by saying that the elections could not be held in last year; we should not dwell on that and should not look back as to why the elections would not be held. But he asked the rhetorical question: How could we move forward? Once again I propose before and during my contribution I will offer examples to the Minister as to how we can move this process forward.
Moving on - the Hon. Member Mr. Whittaker has said that during the period while Local Government Elections were not held that things have not been dormant; that the Ministry has been very active. Once again, I will take no pleasure in pointing out that the things, the actions that the Ministry have been active in, have been for all the wrong reasons and all the wrong things that they have been active in. The only reason that the Hon. Member offered partly as to why these elections could not be held sooner, was according to him the extent of preparatory work needed; those were the Minister’s words.
Going on to say that Members of the majority of this House, Members of the Opposition, are not aware of the amount of preparatory work that is needed. The Hon. Minister said that apart from the work that GECOM has to do there is a lot of other work that the Ministry of Local Government has to do. The fact remains that the voter education work that needs to be done as it relates to the holding of these Local Government Elections under the new system that the Minister spoke about arises not from the four Bills that were unanimously approved in this House in August of last year, but arises from a bill that was passed in the previous Parliament in the year 2009, so it has been four years since the new Local Government System of Elections, as the Minister explained to us that the elections will be held with 50% of the Councils under Proportional Representation (PR) and the other 50% under constituency arrangement. It was a bill that was approved since 2009. I do not know how much more time the Minister feels is needed and the Government needs for this programme of voter education to take place; certainly not another 17 years.
Among other things the Hon. Minister accused the Opposition of opposing and obstructing the process that is necessary for the holding of these elections and having levelled that accusation against the Opposition the Minister went on to say that it is time to move forward. Whilst, as the Minister said, we are no closer to the desired results the Minister invites us to be a part of this process in supporting this bill. The fact remains that this bill provides for the postponement of elections, not the holding of election, so I think that the Minister should make up his mind if he wants us to be part of the process he is inviting us not to support the bill that is designed for the postponement of holding of elections. I believe the Minister got his message mixed up.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall that this Bill, Bill No. 3 of 2014, started out life as Bill No. 21 of 2013, which was tabled in this House...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, there is a din. I am not hearing the Member clearly. There seems to be about four sub-debates going on and I do not think that we are doing ourselves any good here by not hearing clearly what is meant and intended to be said.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for that protection, but it is obvious that the Hon. Members on the other side of the House...
Mr. Speaker: It is coming from both sides, Mr. Bulkan.
Mr. Bulkan: ...are not interested. I was saying that you will recall that this Bill started out its life as Bill No. 21 of 2013 and it was laid in this National Assembly on the 12th December last year and it was scheduled to be debated on the 16th January at the last Sitting. You would also recall, Mr. Speaker, that on the order paper of the 16th January Bill No.21 of 2013 was withdrawn and it was replaced by the Bill before us, Bill No. 3 of 2014. In view of that you had invited the Hon. Minister to offer an explanation as to why a similar Bill was withdrawn and replaced with another one. Because of the direct relevance of these two Bills I trust that you would permit me a passing comment about Bill No. 21 of 2013 which was laid here in December of last year. I believe that it was as a result of an amendment that was tabled by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on the day before that Bill was to be debated in this House that lead to the recognition of an error in the bill and its subsequent withdrawal by the Government.
The question needs to be asked and, again, it is not my intension or desire to be childish, but I am disappointed in the fact that there was an error in this Bill. We have to ask if it is a question of how sloppy we have become or is there another reason. I will refer to what was said by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat and the Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, at his weekly press conference, the week before this Bill No. 21 was tabled in the National Assembly. This is what Dr. Luncheon said in reference to that Bill; his words were: “it’s an annual exercise”. In other words what it suggests to me is that the citizens’ rights are not important; that we, that is the Government, will have those elections when it suits the Government. It is this flippant and cavalier attitude that deeply troubles us on this side of the House.
Moving back to the Bill let us be honest and let us call a spade a spade. This Bill before this House is an affront to citizens and it is an assault on local democracy. No justification exists for this Bill other than the living proof of the callous indifference to citizens’ fundamental rights and the total disregard that this Government has for the Constitution. This Bill seeks to provide lawful cover for the postponement of Local Government Elections for the seventeenth time or 17 years. I have already said that there is no justification this time for this Bill before us because five months have passed since the four remaining Local Government Bills were unanimously approved in this House. That was ample time enough for a date to be set for the holding of Local Government Elections and for advance preparations to be made. There have been 16 previous debates on this subject matter before this House – debates here in this House.
It is not my intention to take this House back so long, heaven forbid, but rather I will refer to statements that were made in this 10th Parliament. I will confine my references singularly in the first debates which was the 2012 debates which took place here in March, 2012. First to speak was the then Minister, Hon. Member Mr. Ganga Persaud, and this was on 15th March, 2012. The Minister said in his contribution to the debate in 2012 that Local Government Elections could not be held in 2011 because of general and regional elections which were held in that year. I think at that occasion the Minister had a ‘get out of jail card’, the one that is used in monopoly. The Minister then went on to say that “the PPP/Civic...” – I am quoting now from the Hansard – “...remains committed to aggressively pursuing the holding of Local Government Election in order to produce a more effective local administration with a replenishment of the leadership of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and Municipalities under the new Local Government System.” Moving on, the Hon. Minister then said “The ruling party would like to restate the importance of Local Government Elections as is stated in the PPP/C Manifesto...” which he went on to quote and he said “which is to ensure that within one year of the 2011 General and Regional Elections that Local Government Elections are held to bring much needed reinvigoration into Local Government Entities.” Then the Hon. Minister became really eloquent. This is what he said, and I quote, as the Minister was speaking from right here on my left:
“This, Hon. Members, is a true reflection of the PPP/C’s desire to empower the ordinary people of Guyana and to enhance the promotion of grassroots democracy further.”
The passing of time has shown and proved that those were empty words. Two years have passed, not just one, since the general and regional elections of 2011. Where, we are forced to ask, is the evidence of the PPP/C’s desire to, as the Minister said, empower the ordinary people and enhance the promotion of grassroots democracy? One would search in vain for this. I think even if we were to enlist the help of the Hubble Telescope, it would not prove to be of much help. What has been happening is the opposite. The Hon. Minister and his colleagues, since those 2011 elections have set about ruthlessly dismembering duly constituted Local Democratic Organs as well as the authority of others using the appointed element of such local democratic organs to execute this callous agenda.
It remains a fact that the Georgetown City Council had passed a motion of no confidence in this very officer but yet the Ministry not only refused that on that motion of no confidence but they compounded the disregard for a decision of the council by appointing substantively the very person to hold that office; yet we can hear about enhancing the promotion of grassroots democracy – I emphasise ‘democracy’ – further. Where is the evidence?
I was in Mahdia in December last year, the administrative centre of Region 8, and I was able to see for myself the total lack of respect that this Government has for Local Democratic Organs and for local democracy and the hollowness when one compares statements on the part of the Government with their actions. [Ms. Teixeira: There is no NDC there.] There is an RDC, Madam, and it is a Local Democratic Organ. We are speaking about local democracy.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members... Mr. Bulkan, just stay focused is what I would advise. There are different dynamics in the front bench than there is in the back.
Mr. Bulkan: The PPP obtained 28% of votes in this Region, Region No.8, at the last elections. What we are seeing, however, is that the Government is using its position and in this instance an appointed officer, the REO, to subvert the authority of the RDC. This council, the RDC of Region 8, is relentlessly being neutered by the Central Government using the very appointed element as well as other Ministries in pursuance of this mission. There are many articles. Two weeks ago, 16th January of this year, there was a letter by the Regional Chairman of Region No.8 in Stabroek News... The letter articulates and it brings to the attention of the public the non-cooperation between the appointed element of this council and the elected element of the RDC of Region No.8. [Mr. Neendkumar: We are not speaking about municipalities here?] We are speaking about local democracy, Minister. Regional Chairman Crawford ended up in his letter by imploring the Government to recognise the no confidence motion that was moved by the RDC of Region No.8 and to send someone else to fill the place of the particular REO in Region No.8. This very council which is actually a regional government met only four times in 2012 and only three times in 2013. The Regional Chairman was told that there was no money to hold a statutory meeting scheduled for December of last year but refuses to account to the council as to where the monies that were voted for the holding of statutory meetings of the council went.
This is not empowering people or promoting or enhancing democracy. This is despotism. The Regional Chairman of Region No.4 has a litany of complaints of how the Central Government is seeking to miniaturise and even to bypass the authority of that council. I wish to use this opportunity to urge the Hon. Member, the Minister, to practice what he preaches and to perform what he professes to believe in; were the Government to do so it will bring much dividend and good will and our citizens will be the beneficiaries.
Georgetown would not be in the sorry state that it is in if indeed we have empowering of communities and empowering of councils; the garbage and the filth and the stench that threatens to overrun the citizens of Georgetown would not be present.
I now need to turn to the then Minister’s Deputy, Hon. Member Junior Minister Mr. Whittaker, and what he had to say in the very 2012 debate.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Hon. Members, it is almost as if there is a determined and concerted effort to ensure that this Member does not get a chance to speak. That is how it is coming over and he shall have the right to speak and I am not hearing him.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I now need to turn to what the Hon. Member, Minister Whittaker, said in the very 2012 debate. The Hon. Minister went directly to the point. There was no skirting around and he said, and this is what I quote:
“The PPP and the PPP/C Government has 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.”
Now we have the kicker. Let us hear what the Hon. Minister spoke of in 2012:
“We want to hold Local Government Elections tonight.”
Just to be sure, that was 23 month ago. The Hon. Minister then provided reasons why his Government wanted those elections and this is what he said; he repeated some of the very statements a short while ago, and I quote:
“...so that we could bring much needed reinvigoration into the Local Government Bodies and, by extension, the very communities which fall within NDCs.”
“For my friends [the Hon. Member says] 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.”
I am forced to ask Hon. Minister if he no longer believes it to be important to empower citizens to participate in the decision-making process. While we are at it perhaps the Hon. Minister would want to share with Members of this honourable House what the reasons were why those elections could not be held in keeping with his stated desire of two years ago. However... [Interruption] Do you want to have your say? It was what the Minister said next that got me thinking. The Minister said:
“We of the PPP/C have nothing to gain by postponing these elections. We have never feared facing the electorate.”
Let me suggest to the Hon. Member, Mr. Whittaker, that one thing that the PPP/C has to gain by postponing these elections is the lack of scrutiny that comes with the Interim Management Committees (IMCs) installed by the Ministry and the duo of Ministers that are stacked with hand-picked cronies. True local democracy and truly empowering local authorities would bring the disinfectant of sunlight into the current murky affairs that bedevils the award of public contracts and public procurement. It would help to address and alley the pervasive public suspicion of massive corruption that accompanies public expenditure; what the Leader of the Opposition calls ‘industrial-scale corruption’ and what led Former Speaker, Mr. Ramkarran... [Interruption] You bring it out.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Hon. Members.
Mr. Bulkan: ...what led Former Speaker, Mr. Ramkarran, to say that our country will soon qualify... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, please. Could we have some order, please? Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, you will require an extension if you propose to go beyond... Your time is up.
Ms. Ally: Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask that the Hon. Member be given 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put, and carried.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was saying that it would help to address and alley the pervasive public suspicion of massive corruption that accompanies public expenditure. What the Leader of the Opposition calls ‘industrial scale corruption’ and what led Former Speaker Mr. Ramkarran to say that our country will soon qualify as the ‘Kleptocratic Republic of Guyana’. Because of the nexus of transparency and the work of local authorities I trust that you could allow me to make a passing reference to the very article that I refer to, the article by Former Speaker Ramkarran which was posted... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, let us take this one step at a time. Mr. Bulkan, you have an article. Could you quote the source, the date and then proceed, please?
Mr. Bulkan: The article is titled ‘The Kleptocratic Republic of Guyana’. It was posted on the website ‘Conversation Tree’ on 23rd June, 2013, and the author is your illustrious predecessor; an individual, I believe, that presided over this Assembly for over a decade. This is what Former Speaker Ramkarran said in this article:
“Guyana would soon qualify as the Kleptocratic Republic of Guyana...”
He made reference to community development councils. This is what Former Speaker Ramkaran says in his article and I quote:
“When the PPP came to office in 1992 Cheddi Jagan perceptively suggested the creation of Community Development Councils. Their initial functions involved the monitoring of contracts as an exercise in popular democracy. They were to be given copies [the CDCs] of contracts so that their works could be measured and approved.”
The article goes on:
“After 1997 the state’s interest in the CDCs began to wane and eventually withered.”
Mr. Speaker, I believe that there is a nexus and significance between the year 1997 that the CDCs were allowed to wither because that was the year that Local Government Elections were supposed to be held. Former Speaker Ramkarran goes on to say:
“Cheddi Jagan must have understood the great danger of the emergence of corruption which he had been fighting vehemently. The focus of party groups needed to be shifted.”
He went on to speak about the scramble that was allowed to develop for jobs, gun licences, house lots and contracts. I quote briefly from Speaker Ramkarran and this is what he said:
“It is not known what percentage of roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure works are badly done. The complaints are plentiful and it is not mainly that the contractors are dishonest. They tell you openly that if they have to bribe so many officials then there is not enough to spend on the works to complete them in accordance with the contracts and to make a profit for themselves at the same time.”
Of course, they willingly collaborate with this state of affairs.
Mr. Speaker: One second Mr. Bulkan. I notice Mr. Neendkumar on his feet, presumably, with a Point of Order.
Mr. Neendkumar: Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member is not speaking on the Bill, he is speaking out of some article in the newspapers which is not...[Interruption] It is totally irrelevant and he is encouraging it.
Mr. Speaker: May I please, Hon. Members...? Okay.
Mr. Speaker: One second Mr. Bulkan. My recollection is that Mr. Bulkan prefaced his introduction of this article on the basis of corruption, the way that it has seeped into the communities and the need for transparency and opening up of the system at that level. The article did mention the creation of CDCs which were... I know that we are dealing with NDCs but at the end of the day we are dealing about grass roots politics. I believe that term was introduced earlier this afternoon. We are dealing with politics at the grass roots level. I note that there is a connection, but I also note that if we continue much longer, Mr. Bulkan, we will start to stray from...At this point in time, I believe, you are speaking to grass roots politics and what is happening on the ground. That is my understanding and it is relevant.
Mr. Bulkan’s rebuttal is coming in the context of the Minister’s statement as to why there is need to delay and that in fact the Government is ready, willing and able to hold elections. I believe the rebuttal is in that context.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Despite the din that you referred to earlier, which you said was preventing you from listening to my contribution, it is obvious that you were. For the edification of the Hon. Member, I was referring to the statement made by the Hon. Minister that the Government has nothing to fear from the non holding of these elections and that is the link I am trying to establish, Mr. Speaker.
Moving on quickly, former Speaker Ramkarran said that this situation is as a direct result of the failure of the PPP to build on the work of Cheddi Jagan and to deal with corruption.
I quote and he said:
“Many of these contractors, businessmen and suppliers of goods and services have close links with the PPP, including members of the leadership.”
The article goes on to speak about manipulating of contracts and of the existence of a group of wealthy and influential businessmen who have high political connections. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: One second please. Mr. Bulkan, you are having quite a baptism in the front bench today but I believe you have expected it and you are prepared for it. Just stay focus and deliver your presentation, please.
Mr. Bulkan: I believe there is a method to the madness. I am not buying any of the platitudes that are being uttered by the Government Ministers. APNU says show us the elections. Do not tell us, as you are saying to us, that you have always been – what did the Minister said - in the forefront of the fight for democracy in this country. APNU says actions speak louder than words.
The role of local government is in enshrined in our Constitution. Its absence, that is, Local Government Elections, and by implications the absence of local democracy, brings serious negative consequences. I will look briefly at some of these consequences.
The presence, and proliferation, of garbage everywhere and the prevalence of flooding, once it rains, is in large measure due to the absence and denial of local democracy and the non-functioning of local democratic organs. Government speakers will seek to say that the fault are those of the councils but what they will not tell us is the interferences being practised by the Ministry that are preventing the local democratic organs from carrying out their functions. This is why I say that responsibility for these conditions lies primarily at the feet of this Government and, in particular, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.
The Constitution provides for a clearly defined role of local democracy and local democratic organs of which there are currently 81, these being 10 RDCs, six municipalities and 65 NDCs. The decentralisation, which our Constitution specifies, requires that these 81 bodies be equipped and empowered to execute their mandate, not for one Ministry to be used to subvert the authority and independence of those constitutional bodies – a Ministry that is hell-bent on control, domination, in violation of the Constitution. It is to quote the words of my colleague, the Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine, when he spoke, at the last sitting, in which he referred to the centralist perversity.
Allow me please, to give an example of what I mean. I refer here to a publication called Pakaraima Peaks. It is a newsletter of the regional administration of Region 8. This newsletter tells us that it was published by the office of the Regional Executive Officer of Region 8. There is no mention here of the RDCs.
Mr. Speaker: Is there any date on it?
Mr. Bulkan: Yes Mr. Speaker. It is dated June 2013, Pakaraima Peaks. If we go through this publication we will see at the end of that there is a list of names. It states, “Meet the regional administration”. There is from the REO all the way down to the Assistant Accountant, all being appointed officers. There is no mention here of the duly elected Regional Democratic Council. A perusal of this publication will show you, Mr. Speaker, that on practically every page you can find photographs of the REO. In this instance he is handing over an ATV. [An Hon. Member (Government): Does it have a photograph?] It has photographs on every page. There is only one photograph of the Regional Chairman in this booklet which is 12 pages. [Mr. B. Williams: Where it is?] It is somewhere hidden.
In this publication there is a photograph of the children of Kato having a meal, but what we do not see is the photograph, which was in the newspapers last year, which was mentioned earlier today, of the very schoolchildren of Kato having to fetch logs for firewood. These are some of the things that the Ministry is engaged in.
The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, as currently configured and operated, does not seem to recognise that it is the problem but instead it is seeking to offer itself as the solution. Let us see what is happening.
There is an article in the Kaieteur News, it is two weeks ago, on January 15, 2014. The title of the article is “Expansion of Local Government Ministry on the way” and it quotes a press conference where, among others, there were the Permanent Secretary Mr. Colin Croal and others. The Permanent Secretary is quoted, in this article, as saying that the Ministry’s workforce has grown significantly resulting in the need for additional buildings and that an expansion of this Ministry is on the way. [Mr. Neendkumar: What is wrong with that?] I will tell you what is wrong with that. What this Ministry needs is not expanding; it needs downsizing. The Government is rushing headlong in the wrong direction. The Ministers comes to this and House and talks about enhancing and improving local democracy but they are practising something else. They are practising central control.
It is important to make it clear that while Local Government Elections are a perquisite for local democracy, by and of itself, that will not be sufficient to bring about the changes and improvements that are badly needed. For this to happen local democratic organs have to be allowed to function in keeping with the authority and autonomy that the Constitution provides, one, which is the Ministry, cannot do the work of 81. This is absurd. In fact, it is executive lawlessness.
I have said it before, in this House, and I will say it once more I am urging the Hon. Members and the Government to stop trampling on our Constitution.
Despite the amendments that APNU has brought to this House it cannot and does not support this Bill. In fact, APNU is vehemently opposed to this Bill. APNU denounces this Bill.
In closing, I call on the Hon. Minister to immediately issue the commencement order for the bringing into being of the Local Government Commission and move to have that commission constituted and operational. The Minister, when he spoke earlier, spoke of article 78(b) of the Constitution and of the fact that the Government has honoured that constitutional provision. What the Hon. Member did not say was that 78 (b) deals with the Local Government Commission and whilst the Act was assented to by the President it has not become operational because it is waiting on a commencement order from the Minister. This is an example of - I am not allowed to say hypocrisy – that I was trying to refer to.
Two, it is to see that the Local Government (Amendment) Act, which is Act No. 17/2013, is signed into law.
Thirdly, it is to fix an early date for the holding of elections for the 65 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and the six towns. That will constitute empowerment.
Herein, I reiterate, lays the proof of the pudding, not the empty words that we are being fed.
Thank you. [Applause]
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