Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 2 of 20123320 15 Mar, 2012
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I am loath to speak on this issue having spoken on it for years now but I need to clear the record in relation to the contentions of the Hon. Minister, Mr. Whittaker. He has contended that there has been consensus; we have made much progress on the Fiscal Transfers Act, etc. The fact of the matter is that is totally untrue. That is the fact of the matter.
Let me say, at this point in time that the PPP/C Government has been the greatest impediment to progress in local democratic reform in this country. For eight years they dilated the proceedings of the joint task force; four years they stayed away from that task force and whenever we seemed to have been moving forward they took us two steps backward in the normal Bolshevik Mode that they practice. Eventually when the pressure came to the fore and they had to do something about it they created another problem and the Former President unilaterally scuttled the work of the taskforce and said that he was transferring the Bills to Parliament to a Select Committee. Unilaterally! It was a bipartisan Committee, a bipartisan taskforce. He was supposed to act in conjunction with the Leader of the Opposition.
When we came to the Select Committee in the last Parliament, the Ninth Parliament, we came with these Bills: the Local Authorities Election Amendment Bill, the Fiscal Transfers Bill, the Local Government Commission Bill, the Local Government Amendment Bill and the Municipal and District Council Amendment Bill – five Bills. At all material times in the taskforce we had agreed that we would bring all of the Bills to Parliament as a package. The last President did not do that. What happened was they purported to come with the Local Authorities Election Bill, which really is a bill to reform the electoral system, which purports to create a hybrid system for the next Local Government Election; where there will be 50% PR and 50% first past the post.
The present situation is they also scuttled the work in the Select Committee, forcing the AFC and the PNC-R delegations, at the time, to withdraw from the Committee. As we presently stand, with all the utterances about progress that they wish to make, after our withdrawal all they did was pass two Bills; those two Bills were the Local Government Commission Bill and the Local Authorities Elections Amendment Bill, trying to convey to the Guyanese people that they were interested in putting the election system in place to run off the next election but what is the present situation? The only Bill that was assent to by the President was the Local Government Commission Bill and they completely blanked the Local Authorities Elections Amendment Bill. In other words one cannot have any election unless that Bill is passed in this Parliament and accented to. It has to now come to this new Parliament and go back through the process, so they are genuine about their commitment to empowering the Guyanese people because that is the whole underlying philosophy of local democracy and local government reform – to empower the Guyanese people in the communities in which they live. They do not want that. They want to continue to have the Minister riding roughshod over the Guyanese people in the community.
They like the emaciated status of these Committees because they want, when it suites them, to implement IMCs in the areas that they never had a vote in. If you check them, when they want to create IMCs they do not restore the IMCs in a proportion in which the persons who had contested the 1994 alone but they pack those IMCs with their PPP cronies. They do not want to move. They want to continue riding roughshod over the City Council to give out all of the contracts from the Ministry and city fathers are bypassed. That is what they want to do. Then they have this Minister now – the Hon. ‘Fledgling’ Minister – I understand that his name is Mr. Whittaker, the Hon. Member, riding roughshod over the overseers. That is why they are in the minority. They do not know how to handle power. Even though it appears that the Minister has power to transfer overseers this is what the situation is: the law, Mr. Speaker, as you will well know and you are well conversant with, even though they have that power to transfer an overseer that power has to be exercised judiciously and what we call in terms of ‘Westbury Reasonableness’. You cannot tell people to, over night, “Move out. Pack up an’ go long yuh way!” after 17 years of living somewhere. That is why they are in the minority. Even their own overseers have rejected them.
The reason they lost the last election, really… We are going to come to that. [Mr. Neendkumar: We lost the last election?] Well you did not win it. The reason was… They were hiding behind large rallies because they could not go into the communities to face the people, because the people do not want them to come to them. They never did anything for the people. In other words, APNU was on the ground. Having known that that is why they lost they want to go on the ground now. They believe that they could start going on the ground now by starting to deal with the overseers; moving around the overseers. Then the move the overseers telling them “Y’all do not increase no tax here for nobody, yuh know.”
You are not in any position to contest any election in this country. You are battered and tired. Don not get fooled by any snap election or anything you see in the papers because you will be more badly beaten this time. We are not afraid of you and your snap election and that nonsense. You are not ready for that so you better stay where you are.
Mr. Speaker, I try to keep awake at this late hour of the evening. Let me say this, this Parliament has to finally perfect this system. The Government does not have the political will to do it; we will do it. So we have to ensure that we get these Bills and bring them back to the Parliament and whether they want to partake… They are not going to be allowed to dilate in this Select Committee because they do not have the majority.
You decide what you want to do. We have to pass all of the Bills and I will tell you this: the whole idea of the Local Government Commission is to really reduce the Minister’s power in the Local Government System. The Minister interferes in everything. That is why we want to transfer most of that power to the Commission. This is what they did in that Commission with the Commission Act: They have made provision for the President to appoint the entire Commission because the President, in a commission of six, appoints three in his own deliberate judgment, two after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and one the Minister appointed. In other words it is a “69”. We are going to change this. We are going to put a proper Commission in place so that we can go forward with the local democracy.
They stymied the whole process for Fiscal Transfers. They have absolutely no intension of seeding that kind of financial control to the people in their communities. Let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, it took us about seven years to get them to talk about increasing the subvention to the NDCs. Across the board they are allocating $3 million to 65 NDCs irrespective of the size of the NDC, the population of the NDC, the resources of the NDC; just a blanket $3 million across the board. It appears to me that the PPP likes this $3 million figure. Does it ring a bell to you, Mr. Speaker – $3 million for a whole NDC? They cannot do anything with it and then $3 million as pension for somebody. They like this “$3 million thing”. So if a man can get $3 million as pension how could $3 million satisfy the requirements of an NDC? How could it? They keep stymieing our discussions. No matter what we try to do to increase it they stymie it and then on the garnering side they finally agree that we could do certain money raising and certain financial increasing revenue measures – we could adopt certain measures. Do you know what they did at the end of the day? We could raise all of these things, we could do all of these things but with the concurrence of the Minister. So it is the same way we are and we have to change that because we want genuine local democracy for the Guyanese people.
At the end of the day I am respectfully submitting that the PPP/C Government is totally disinterested in moving the local democracy forward. We on this side of the House are resolved that power must go the Guyanese people in the communities in which they live. I am recommending that we will not allow them to come every year and continue to postpone the elections. This must be the final year. We want the Local Government Elections this year because we do not only want to beat you at the top; we want to beat you at the bottom too. That is what we want to do. So, this is the only occasion that we are going to say “okay, allow them to pass this time but they have good warning that we are not going to allow that to happen again.” If we are going to postpone the election it has to be because of general elections.
Otherwise to that the Local Government Act was passed, the Fiscal Transfers Act was passed and the Local Authority Elections Amendment Act must pass. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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