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Municipal And District Councils (Amendment) 2012 – Bill No. 9/2012

Hits: 3196 | Published Date: 07 Aug, 2013
| Speech delivered at: 62nd Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Mr Norman A. Whittaker, MP

Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government have always been ready to work with the Opposition to advance the electoral reform process and so move towards Local Government elections. For we do believe that Local Government legislative reform and consequential Local Government elections will ultimately bring strong and re-energised local governance and development.
The Municipal and District Council’s Amendment Bill No. 19 of 2012 is yet another of the four Bills that went before the Special Select Committee on which we had concurrence, so I was taken aback as the speaker before me went into a triad about some sections of the amendments. It is another one of these Local Government Bills on which there was consensus in respect of several sections and provisions, whilst some others needed some amendments, but we did have concurrence at the end. Ultimately, the amendments are intended to improve the way the Local Government Organs deliver services to the people.
I wish to examine some of these amendments, but before I do so, just to point out to this Assembly that there is no executive authority reposed in the Municipal Council. The Town Clerk is the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Administrator. Council’s decisions and expectations that the Town Clerk implement its decisions, must be premise on those decisions being legal intra vires, existing laws, by-laws, regulations, etc. There would be instances where that administrative officer does not, because of some infringement, wish to implement the decisions of the Council. We have always said to our officers, that they do not bring to the attention of the Council in anomaly in correctness, and that is what has been happening.
Section 2(a) of the amendment goes beyond the mere definitions and interpretations provided in section 2, and define the purposes and specific objectives of the Municipality. In other words it forces the Council and more specifically its members to be more proactive and not merely to shelter under broad definitions and provisions and open interpretations that presently persist.
The section 2(a) to which the Hon. Member also referred, speaks of viable communities. This must be interpreted to meaning a municipality that will sustain its development programme and by extension itself. The section also specifically focuses on issues of sanitation and health at a time when most Guyanese share similar concerns. Section 8 (2) – I wish to deal only with those sections where we have some amendments, notwithstanding the fact that we agreed on them – it places the important responsibility on the Minister to prescribe by order the number of councillors, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, while the new section 8(a) helps us to understand when indeed a councillor discharges or performs his or her responsibilities as councillors. It sets out their general duties.
Those of us who have been following the press would have known that quite recently it was s topical issue, still is, when is a councillor discharging his or her duties? Because we have instances of persons claiming or recouping moneys for services that they claim to have provided.
The Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 did not set out the general duties of City Council. Generally, many felt that these were limited to attending meetings – Statutory meetings, limited only by a requirement to provide excuses for absences and by a procedure that led to the Councillor being removed from the Council and replaced, if he or she failed without reasonable cause or excuse to attend three consecutive statutory meetings of the Council.
In fact, some Council receive more than the statutory minimum range for contributing little or nothing to the meetings of the Council and by extension to the welfare of the residents of the communities that they serve. This amendment is welcomed.
Although considered to be part time, expectations of the citizenry are many and high. Councillors must be an integral part of committees and attend committee meetings and statutory meetings. They must hold community meetings engaging revenues; they must represent the Council at meetings to which they are detailed to attend. Once that is done, one must attend a statutory meeting where they must report on and provide justifications for the benefits, financial and otherwise that is received.
While section 8(2) permits the Minister to prescribe the total number of Councillors, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of the Council, section 29 (2) allows the Minister to perform the same duty, in respect of the Councillors of the New Amsterdam Municipality and section 38 (2) in respect of the other Municipalities.
Section 29 (a) sets out the same general duties in respect of Councillors as those set out in sections 8(a) and 35(b).
There are significant changes in terms of various fines, fees, charges that were up graded. I used to mention some of them: Section 43, the amount of personal expenses which may be incurred by a candidate at an election to District Council increasing substantially and the issue of Council having pecuniary interests in contracts. This has been an issue in many of the Municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils. The issue of Council and by extension Councils having pecuniary interests in contract - in the case of shares where a councillor has pecuniary interests in shares and nominal value of which does not exceed 40,000. Then there is mention about the group pension scheme, where the age of employees eligible to be a part of that scheme is reduced from 21 years to 18 years.
One can hardly dispute the fact that the amendments to Chapter 28:01 will contribute in a significant way to improving the way we do things in the municipality. A lot of the shortcomings in the municipalities are due to inadequacies in the performance of Councillors, poor revenue collections, low fines, fees and charges. The amendments proposed do provide some reasonable expectation, some hope for improved performance. It for these and other reasons that I join with my colleagues on both sides of the House in supporting the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill, 2012. [Applause]

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