Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/20143498 10 Feb, 2014
Minister within the Ministry of Local Government [Mr. Whittaker]: Mr. Speaker this Bill, No. 3 of 2014, seeks to amend Section 36(a)(1) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act and so allow for the extension of the date on which the next Local Government Elections may be held to a date on or before 1st December, 2014.
Almost one year ago, to be precise on 7th February, 2013, as the National Assembly considered Bill No. 8 of 2013 I confidently stood and shared the optimism of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). I exuded the commitment of the People's Progressive Party/Civic to have Local Government Elections during the course of that year. I reminded all, like I do today, that the People's Progressive Party/Civic has always been in the forefront of every form of democratic struggle in our country to ensure that Guyanese of all races, creed and class enjoy universally recognised basic human rights. In fact, we do have a long history of championing the cause and rights of Guyanese people including the right to be meaningfully involved in managing and developing the communities in which they live.
I reemphasise this afternoon that the People's Progressive Party/Civic has absolutely nothing to gain by not holding Local Government Elections; nothing at all. To the contrary we have been working assiduously to move the process forward. I, personally, have never had any doubt in my mind as to the genuineness and the determination of the people to hold Local Government Elections. We care, Sir; we have always cared.
So it is against this historically proven background that we of the PPP express concern that Local Government Elections could not be held during 2013 as we would have wished. But may I suggest that what has passed by has gone and will forever be out of reach of the will to alter.
Let us examine how we move forward from here with a resolve to complete, permission to use the words, this social contract. For indeed, there has been progress, perhaps not as much as we would have desire. But we continue to work to build capacity in our local government organs and this we consider to be all part of preparing them for this elections, where they will take the seat of governance. We continue to work to build capacity in our local government organs, where the required capacity does not exist. To strengthen that capacity where it is weak and to empower communities and, to give them more say through their elected leaders in their own development.
I want to site as an example, the annual estimates and subvention plans and programmes of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and the Municipalities. Gone are the days when the elected or appointed leaders will sit in an office, determine what needs to be done and present to us, at the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, their views on what should constitute programmes and projects for those communities.
We have to see evidence of engagements with the people; individually, collectively, we have to see that evidence. We require that all these budgets be accompanied by minutes of meetings, which our staff sample checks to ensure the involvement of people. The annual estimates and the subvention, emanates through a process of engagement and consultation with residents of the constituencies of the local authority areas across our country.
We at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development continuously view and involve the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and the Municipalities because we view them as vital organs of local democratic power. Towards this end, we invite them to join us in the task of managing and developing communities.
Mr. Speaker, I say these things to say, that it is not only about legislative reforms, important though they be, but also about improving the governance landscape. In this regard, we have made, at the level of the Ministry of Local Government and the level of Government, tremendous stripes.
The Opposition political parties continue to affirm that local government legislative reform is a pre-requisite to the holding of Local Government Elections. Even as they continually do so, they continue in one form or another - in one way or another - to obstruct the process, the very process that is intended to deliver on these reforms.
But my friends, we of the People’s Progressive Party have always held the view and shared the view with you that Local Government Legislative Reform must be viewed as a continual process and that necessarily implies that legislative reform is not merely about Local Government Elections, but also about local governance after the elections and that is why we need to prepare our people – potential leaders residents; we need to prepare them.
Therefore, I re-emphasise, to say that reform is a sine qua non for Local Government Elections, is to suggest that the reform is merely about elections and that is not so. Often I wonder if those on that side of the House, misread, misconstrued or misinterpreted the intent of these reforms.
I wonder also, have the Opposition noticed that we have moved forward on these legislative reforms? I guess not because we are too engrossed in merely impeding the work of Government. The Fiscal Transfers Act, to which His Excellency assented, that is progress. It does provide the objective criteria for resource allocation and this is what we have been asking for some while. That is progress. If it is not, tell me what is. This particular piece of legislation is what is envisaged under Section 76 – 77A of the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of Guyana, so we have fulfilled that.
In addition, the Local Government Commission Act satisfies the provisions of Section 78A of the Constitution. These two, along with the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Act of 2013 and the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act do satisfy the requirements for the elections of members of local democratic organs.
So Mr. Speaker, we of the PPP have not been dormant; we have not merely, as some do, in meeting cries and pleas and used, we have been active. Our Government, through the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, has been taking a menu of measures to build and strengthen capacity at the level of the Human Resource in our Ministry; at the level of the Local Government Organs in the region; Regional Democratic Councils, Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, Municipalities. We have focus, among other things on the issue of involvement of the people in decisions as to what constitute priorities. We have focus on expenditure controls so that the taxpayers’ money can be properly spent. We have focus on sanitation and environmental issues; in short we have focus on improving revenue collections, instituting expenditure controls and ensuring they are rigidly adhere to and in improving the way we deliver core service. When we do that we are also addressing issues of governance.
We are aware that good governance is essential to sustaining development and we have taken important measures to improve Government practice in this country. Public education and awareness are also part of it. May I say, we have had a number of mayors and chairmen of municipalities, including those who head the city of Georgetown, attending our public awareness and we are happy for that; including programmes like, the Districts Tender Board.
We have made improvements, tremendous improvement. But even as I say this, I reiterate that the absence of Local Government Elections over the past 16 plus years has not helped our people, more so our young people to understand how important these elections are. So we at Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development (MLGARD) have taken steps to so educate them.
The PPP has never assey to dominate, but to work with the Opposition to seek to arrive at a consensus on the critical issues that will support local democracy. We are of the strong view that our people would, through local democracy have a greater involvement in the making of decisions with respect to their own development. No informed open minded honest Guyanese can deny the PPP its significant role in working to meet the reformed Local Government System envisaged under Section 72-78 of our Constitution. The approve [Inaudible] by Parliament of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act 26/2009 provides for Local Government Elections to be held in all the existing 71 Local Authority areas using their mixed electoral system of Proportional Representation and First Pass The Post. The system further provides the opportunities for voluntary groups’, political parties and individual candidates to contest for seats in the Municipalities and in the NDCs.
The Guyanese people have heard ad nauseam the various reasons for the delay in holding Local Government Elections, but the truth is that the key legislative reform for such elections has been passed in the National Assembly and assented to by His Excellency, but we are hearing different signals coming from the other side. In this regard, we ought to be aware, we must be aware that several clauses of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill of 2013, as amended by the Opposition, whoa be on the expectations pellucidly set out in the Constitution of Guyana.
We have come too far not to want to move to the finishing line; there must be no turning back. We have made tremendous strides in strengthening our democracy. This could be further strengthened with strong and affective local governance. Me thinks Sir, that we must seek first the Local Government Elections and all other things will be added thereafter. Some spend too much time opposing and obstructing, it is time to move forward.
We can perennially and continually debate what we are doing and what we are not doing and the concomitant effects, but the bottom line is that gets us no closer to the desired position and the desired results and that is, having Local Government Elections and of course a PPP/Civic victory. Our discussion must focus on getting there; we invite you to be part of that discussion.
We must agree that all the required legislative reforms are in place. We must appreciate that legislative reform is a continual process. We must determine that we want to have these elections and we must move forward in this process.
We of the PPP have started our work. I call on the Parliamentary Opposition political parties to support the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and agree to a postponement of the overdue elections, while we work collectively to conclude proper preparations for the holding of these elections on or before 31st December, 2014.
I have noted a proposed amendment under the pen of the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan. I am sure that as he pen this proposed amendment, the Hon. Member would have been informed and therefore aware of the extent of the preparatory works that have to be done and the extent of the number of various organs, institutions and agencies involved in that preparation. These include, quite apart from Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. There is the issue of the preparation of registered voters; there is the issue of the preparation for conduct of claims and objections which is a continual engagement; there is the issue of logistics; there is the issue of procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive election material; and there is the issue of public awareness. We all have our own duties and responsibilities. But quite apart from that, we view the proposed amendment as an attempt to take away the executive authority that is reposed in our Government and more specifically, the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development to determine and announce by way of order, a date for the holding of these elections. We cannot appear to be going contrary to what the legislation says. When the legislation speaks we must listen, like good students.
Therefore, we cannot and will not support the proposed amendments. Notwithstanding, I wish to say to this National Assembly that we have made tremendous progress in moving towards Local Government Elections, that the issue of legislative reforms have been, as required in the Constitution - the supreme law of the land, addressed; that what is needed is to give ourselves adequate time so that the administrative arrangements and activities that have to be engaged in can proceed efficiently and orderly. We owe it to all the stakeholders involved in this process and more specifically we owe it to the people of Guyana. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Mr. Whittaker (replying): Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. First, let me thank the Members on the Government’s side of the House for their support. It is clear that they understand, appreciate and are committed to support and to work with us to ensure that we are adequately prepared to have local government elections on or before 1st December, 2014.
It is unfortunate that my dear Friends on the Opposition went on a journey, or should I describe it as an escapade, that, in my own humble opinion, leads to nowhere. The problem I have with that is that they want the Guyanese people to follow them down that road. We wish to try our utmost to ensure that that does not happen.
The Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, finds that the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development offered absolutely no reasons why these elections could not be held. Yet, he spent 23 minutes discussing the positions offered by the Hon. Minister.
I think that the average Guyanese understands clearly why it is that we have not had local government elections. I think that the average Guyanese understands that when these elections were due in 1997, because of the fact that general elections were also due, those superseded the local government elections. My understanding also is that the average Guyanese, and I am trying my best to include the Opposition in this term “average”, would recall that the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, may God rest his soul, did engage our then President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo. There was an agreement for no local government elections until there is some local government reform. There was this agreement.
Coming out of that, we had the Task Force, which the Hon. Attorney dealt with. I merely wish to remind us also about the passive resistance by some and the active resistance by others, from the Opposition, in the Special Select Committee, in moving these reform legislations forward. Some were absent with frequency. Some came and went as they liked and consequently delayed the work of the Committee.
The frustrated Guyanese public, wanting to see the process move forward, made their voices heard and placed us in the situation where His Excellency, the then President, determined that we have to move this process forward. Therefore the Task Force was set aside and we brought it here into the National Assembly.
In short, the delay in the legislative reform process, which was one of the prerequisites agreed on, was occasioned by the ineptitude of the Opposition. To come here to seek to cast blame at the foot of the PPP Government is not the way to go.
Further, the Opposition has said that it will not participate in local government elections – their leader is on record of saying this – until His Excellency assents to all four pieces of legislation. Let me go back a little further. In 2008, the then Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin, said, “No local government elections until the reform Bills were passed.” What we have had over the years is a parroting of this position by other Members of the Opposition.
Mr. Speaker, when one examines the supreme law of the land that guides what we do - in this instance I am talking about local government - only three of those pieces of legislation are mandatory. We have dealt with, approved in this National Assembly and His Excellency has assented to those three. They are the Fiscal Transfers Act, the Local Government Commission Act and the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act. [Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: They have not been operationalised.] Do not put words in my mouth please. Mr. Speaker, I would wish to continue. Those are the three pieces that are mandatory and they have passed through this way and His Excellency has written unto them.
The Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, attributed some ulterior motive to the PPP/C for the postponement. He said the Bill is about postponing. My Friends, this Bill that we are looking at is not merely about postponing. It is about understanding and working with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic to ensure adequate preparation for local government elections. There must be adequate preparation. If at the end of this exercise, my Friends, we have an election with 15% or 20% of our electorate going to the pole, then that is a bad investment in time and money. That shows inadequate preparation. We have history to guide us here. [Interruption] Mr. Speaker, I wish to continue.
Some believe that going to the poles is merely by making speeches. Friends, listen to me. Have you ever considered that there is lots of homework still to be done? As I said earlier on, we have made progress. We have moved forward in spite of the impediments, but there are still lots to be done. Do we think that the recruitment of the Chief Elections Officer is an overnight thing? Do we think that is something that happens with the stroke of a pen? Do you think the issue of a GECOM Chairman is an overnight issue that happens with the stroke of a pen?
Do you think that the issues of logistics for other arrangements, for the 65 NDCs, with the constituency changes… These are things that we have to take on board. [Mr. B. Williams: [Inaudible] has to look at those problems, not you.] It is the Minister who guides His Excellency in terms of the date for the local government elections. Once I hold the portfolio, I am not prepared to misguide His Excellency. Unless we are certain that the preparations are adequate...
The Opposition Members say that they are ready. That is them. [Mr. B. Williams: We have launched already, you know.] This is not about the readiness of the Opposition. My Friends, this is not about the readiness of the Opposition. The holding of the elections, the timing of these elections are a function of so many variables, including, but not restricted to, the regulatory body’s readiness to execute the duties and responsibilities relative to the fair and efficient preparation and conduct of these elections. It is about people’s awareness and education and readiness to be part of the process, which includes going out there to vote. All of that is part of the process. We sit down and believe that the passing of a few Bills and going out there in the public and shouting, creating a hullabaloo… [Mr. B. Williams: [Inaudible]…project help people understand the elections…] We are in the business of helping. We have been in that business for a long time.
Mr. Speaker, I want to go to some specific points raised by some Members of the Opposition. The first is democracy. There is a suggestion that we are not working with the elected leaders in some of the Regions. Mr. Bulkan did single out Region 8 and he did specify the RDC. I would say to this House that I have devoted a lot of my time as a former Regional Chairman, an experienced one at that, to spend moments with the Regional Chairman of that Region along with some of their Councillors and the REO to deal with some of the concerns that the Gentleman has expressed. What has been happening is that the Gentleman is confused by all these people telling him all things other than the truth, other than the way forward. He is confused and I am sorry for him. Quite recently, I did engage him again because I saw that he had moved off of the road that I had set him on.
In all the Regions, we have been working with the Regional Democratic Council. In Region 4, the Regional Chairman, Mr. Corlette, I am sure, is an honourable man and he will tell you that. We have been working with Mr. Crawford in Region 8. We have been working with Mr. Bradford in Region 7 and the Hon. Member will tell you that I have engaged the Chairman of Region 10 quite frequently in discussing regional business and issues, sharing the benefit of my experience and working with them to deliver improved services to the people that they serve. If there are other distractions which take them down a wrong road, then I can only offer my sympathy.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to comment on this business of the IMCs. Interim Management Committees are not a creation of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. They are part of the legislation, and no doubt the legal luminaries of the day who worked to prepare those important pieces of legislation envisaged that there may be occasions when we find ourselves, for one reason or another, unable to hold elections within the constituted day and we have to make an interim arrangement. They, no doubt, can see, as the old people say, ahead of their noses. What we merely follow is what is set out in the legislation. The legislation sets out under what conditions we can have Interim Management Committees. [Mr. B. Williams: Do you follow them?] I wish to assure the Hon. Mr. Basil Williams that in 101% of the times, we follow strictly what is in the legislation.
We have IMCs in areas where people tell us are Opposition areas. The problem is that when I and other Ministers go into these areas, we do not ask if it is an Opposition area. Guyanese people are living there and we work with them. If you check - I will give you the figures - of 65 NDCs, 32 are IMCs. The IMCs... [Ms. Ally: Thirty-two are hand-picked.] The people of the NDCs petitioned the Minister. They petitioned the Minister that they are not satisfied with the conditions under which the affairs of the NDC are being managed. Most cases have to do with unaccountability for the people’s money. In other cases, it has to do with the quality of works done using these moneys.
The Minister orders an inquiry. [Mr. Williams: Where could we get the reports?] The Minister does not act on the basis of the petition only. He orders an inquiry. This is advertised in the press for all Guyanese to see that the investigation would be held on such a date, at such time and at such venue. If the Hon. Member Mr. Williams is in Georgetown and the inquiry is being held in Kwakwani and he has information, he is free to go to make his contribution. At the end of it, the Commissioner prepares and submits a report based on what is presented.
Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to this House that the Interim Management Committees are not something that are set up in any willy-nilly fashion without due regard for what is set out in the laws. I want to refer to what the Hon. Mr. Williams referred to in his lively, humorous presentation laced with inaccuracies and satirical observations. He spoke about the toll and dismissals. I want to emphasise again that nobody was dismissed by any of the Ministers at the Ministry of Local Government. I want to emphasise that coming out of a request for financial support to meet the cost of bringing the wage Bill for many to the revised minimum, we decided on using our subvention to assist.
This is it. Mr. Trotman speaks about frustrating the people of Guyana and trampling on the rights of the people. I am disappointed in those statements. You were not reading from the right history books because I could not accept that the Hon. Member can talk about trampling of rights when it is the People’s Progressive Party/Civic which restored the rights of the people of this country to enjoy so much freedom: the right to vote, the right to eat what I want once I have the resources, the right to have your vote counted. It is this Government, so why would we want to trample on the very rights that we sacrificed to restore in this country? I find the points made inexplicable.
Mr. Speaker, the proposed amendment to bring the proposed date for the holding of local government election to 1st August presupposes and presumes that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic is in 100% control of all mechanisms and players of the election machinery. We are not! Therefore, this is an unfair request because that is the presumption. You are presuming that we have this thing under control like a leash and we can just pull it if we want to go right or left. My Friends, that used to happen in the 1970s and the 1980s, but we do not have that control. [Mr. Williams: What is he talking about?] The election machinery.
There are two other comments on which I must make some observations. One has to do with changing lists to reflect different roads. This here I take offence to. It presupposes that we have officers, and we are privy to it, who take approved lists of projects and doctor these. That does not happen. That cannot happen and I hope that the Hon. Member would withdraw that statement because that is not so.
The final comment I wish to make is this: Attorney-at-law Mr. Nandlall, the Hon. Member, mentioned it. What is about to happen is an attempt to usurp the executive authority that is reposed in the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development and that is captured in Chapter 28:03, section 35, for those who would like to have a read. The Minister must determine and must announce by way of order a date for the holding of these elections. It cannot be otherwise so I call on my Friends on the opposite side to reconsider. I want to discern that except for the Hon. Member, Mr. Basil Williams, I think the others are thinking about reconsidering because ultimately the decision revolves in the Minister.
Mr. Speaker, I ask that the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/2014 be read for a second time. Thank you.
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