Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/20123962 07 Aug, 2013
Mr. Whittaker: The need for local government legislative reform gives recognition to an acceptance that some of the laws are outdated, no doubt. Fines need to be upgraded. It gives recognition to the need also to be able to capture some of the relevant amendments reflected in the other pieces of legislation. But alas! Unlike the two Bills before, this evening, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 can best be described as having been hijacked – I hope that is a term that is allowed – by the Opposition in the Special Select Committee to vote for the inclusion of several amendments which are not any part of what came out of the task force, but which seek, merely, to miniaturise the role of the Minister. That was the focus. The few fines that we raised, the penalties that we increase could best, perhaps, be described as distractions but the primary intent was to miniaturise the role of the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development and by extension the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, but in the process, as was pointed out before, it significantly conflicts with the Constitution. This point needs to be reemphasised.
The PPP/C representative on the Committee sought to draw attention to this fact but, of course, to no avail. Before I examine some of these amendments I need to remind my friends, on that side of the House, that this local government legislative reform is not, merely, about local government elections - we need to remind ourselves about that – but it is about local governance after elections. If it is that we feel that it is just an arrangement that focuses on getting over with an election, no Sir, no Ma’am. It goes beyond that. It is about what changes and what changes we need that will meet the needs of the Guyanese people; it is about what is in the best interest of the Guyanese people; it is about what is correct and it is about what is legal. We, of the PPP and the PPP/C, do not want to dominate but as the elected Government we could not have allowed ourselves to be dominated.
The removal of several sections of the Principal Act, I listed about 14 but there are about 34, with its focus on miniaturising the authority and the powers of the Minister is obviously noticeable. Before I get there, section 2(4) dealing with the REO, as some speakers pointed to us, wanting to impose the REO. The Regional Executive Officer, the Government Accounting Officer, has been there since 1980. He is there because he is the Chief Accounting Officer and it is through that tier of local government that resources are made available. That is why he is there. It is not an imposition. The Regional Executive Officer, the Chief Accounting Officer, is not an imposition.
The amendment seeks to remove, under section 6, the power in the Minister to make inquiries. The Minister will only wish to have an inquiry where things are not going the way they ought to go; where they are not going well. Here it is we want to take away this responsibility, because that is what it should be, to make inquiries.
Section12 which deals with institution or proceedings on behalf of village or country districts, it does not appear that the other side appreciates that not all of Guyana is organised into local authorities and such areas rightly should fall under the Minister. Do you know that there are some 129 areas designated as NDCs but only 65 have NDCs set up? This is where the role of the Minister comes in but we want to remove that. In fact, we are not getting in to the debt of the issue; we are just targeting the word “Minister”
Look at section 13, the power of the Minister to act as a local authority. It is for the same thing. The intention here is to dilute. Again I say, there are several areas within the country that do not fall within municipalities or NDCs. [Nagamootoo: The commission will do that.] The commission deals with officers. It is not elected officials. That is the expectation.
Look at Section 14, the general powers of supervision, inspection is being removed. [Mr. B. Williams: Read section 14]. Section 14, it has several sections, but they want to move it. This deals with powers to remove elected officials.
I want to draw attention to article 78A of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana because as I listen to the speakers here I felt that there was something that I was overlooking. I went back to article 78A of the Constitution and that speaks to the purpose, the whole raison d’être, behind the setting up of the commission. The composition and rules of the Local Government Commission will empower that commission to deal with matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs and with dispute resolution within and between local government officers.
Nowhere does it speak about elected officials, so I find it difficult to understand the rationale.
Mr. Bulkan: I would just like to correct the Minister. He said, “between local government officers”. The Constitution states “local government organs”.
Ms. Teixeira: The main point is made.
Mr. Bulkan: There is a difference between the words “officers” and “organs”.
Mr. Whittaker: I accept.
Section 42, “appointment of officers not subject to Minister’s approval”, Mr. Speaker, I want to ask you... I do not know if you have chapter 28:02 in front of you, but section 42 (1) and (2), which deals with appointment and duties of officers, including overseers, they would wish to remove. Section 42(3), the same person may, with the approval of the Minister, they kept. They randomly selected particular sections that we want to remove. We removed 42 (1) and (2) but we keep 42(3).
If we look at sections 95 to 115 of chapter 28:01, those deal with Local Government Service Commission. There is a clear indication, legislation prepared by the legal luminaries of those lists. There is a clear indention of what was the intent, the area of responsibility for the commission. What is it that they are expected to deal with? Appointments, oaths of office, terms of office, disqualification from appointments, resignation, removal from office, leave, reporting procedures, disciplining, those are the intended functions of the Local Government Commission. Nowhere does it target or deal with the elected officials. In fact, it was pointed out earlier that even, presently, at the level of the Ministers, we do not appoint, disappoint or discipline elected officers. We do not.
We go on to section 48(3)...
Section 52, which deals with charging tolls for passage of craft and animals...., a matter that is presently in the public domain because of the issue that we have at Kara Kara in Linden.
Section 69: Power to exempt property from payments of rates on the ground of poverty of the proprietor, a matter that we had and still have pending at one of our bigger municipalities. We want to leave that in the hands of the council. We are having problems in a number of municipalities, including the largest one, there is, where people sit and decide among themselves on, contrary to what is captured in the legislation, who get exempted from payments of rates and who do not.
Section 126: Could you imagine this? There is a section 126, “Local authorities responding to emergencies or disasters in a manner as determined by the local authority.” At this point in time, I am not sure that there would not be issues of capacity, issues of resources and there is already a national body that deals with those. The intention here is to dilute the authority of the Minister, but I say to my friends that central Government must have a meaningful role in the superintendent of the affairs of local government organs, because no matter what we do the greatest part to the resources, supervision of the works, of utilisation of those resources, when we look at those, the Government has a significant role to play. No matter what we do we cannot lose sight of that and we must not lose sight of that.
The amendment proffered by the combined Opposition takes away lots of this authority. In fact, it goes beyond that, it redefines and dilutes the Minister’s role and his ability and that of his Ministry, and by extension the Government, to provide the desired, the needed development support to local government organs. I think the Opposition has gone well behind its defined role as opposition. The Members are not merely opposing, they are obstructing.
Our nation must not support their efforts. I do not support their proposed amendments captured in the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/2012.
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