Supreme Court of Judicature (Appeal) (Amendment) Bill3113 07 Feb, 2013
Minister within the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: All of us in this National Assembly are aware of the reasons for the continual postponement of Local Government Elections - every one of us is aware. Lest the reasons become clouded in the inaccuracies proffered by the Hon. Member of the Opposition, Mr. Bulkan, I wish to emphasise that, simply put, constitutional reform to which we all agreed, both sides, which we placed on the table and which we agreed was a necessary prerequisite to the holding of subsequent Local Government Elections to 1994 is what has held up the process.
It could never be that the reform process is one that only the Government will take forward. It was always the understanding that it was Government and the Opposition that were expected to sit together, knock heads, put the interests of the masses of the people first and advance this process.
The first thing I want us to get is that the non conclusion of these reforms has resulted in us coming to the Parliament, annually, to seek an amendment to the required legislation to accommodate a postponement of the elections.
This brings me to the next point. If local government reform and concomitant administrative reforms are a sine qua non to advance the process, what has held back this process since 2001? In my search for an answer to that question I met a few members of the task force who were integral to the legislative reform and that is where I learned that whilst there could not be meeting of minds on every single issue, which was brought to the front burner, there were other factors, extraneous to the issues before the task force, that impeded the progress. I learned of frequent absences of Members of the Opposition side who were on that task force. Earlier on I saw one of them here. I do not think that he anticipated what I would have said and disappeared – frequent absences. I learned that when the Member turned up, the task force was always required to revisit the issues that were discussed at its previous meetings. I learned that there were some issues in which the Government side was told that those were local government concern and the Opposition Members had no interest in that. I learned, in short, that there were factors that went outside of the critical issues before the task force that, in some way, hindered the progress that was expected of this body.
Here we are in this Tenth Parliament; we are before a Special Select Committee, and as I follow up what is happening at that level, I sometimes get annoyed with the Government side and I say, “Why did we not use our five-seat majority the way they are using their one-seat majority?” I asked myself that. I do not know if it is the right thing. I answered myself: “We believe in the democratic process.” We have always pointed the Guyanese people, especially our supporters, in that direction. We have always practised democracy and there is no reason why we should change. We have gone too far to turn back. I am happy that, in retrospect, we did not go down that road.
The Hon. Member, my learned friend, Mr. Bulkan, read extensively from the Hansard that when this Bill was debated in the Ninth Parliament, I said, among other things, that we have nothing to gain. That “we” is referring to “we” of the PPP. My friends, I hold to that position. In fact, my belief, and the belief of those who are on our side, is reinforced by what has been happening around us. The question now becomes, whilst we await the conclusion of the work of the Special Select Committee, what do we do as a Government? Is it that the business of local governance ceases? Is it that there is a disconnect among us, the local government organs and the masses of the people in the neighbourhoods and the municipalities for which we all have responsibility? Definitely, it is not. We must continue to work with them. We must continue to reach out into the neighbourhoods across the ten administrative regions and the municipalities across the ten regions to see how they have been coming in terms of their delivery of services to the people for whom they have a responsibility. Where we find that there are deficiencies, where we find that there are shortcomings in the way this is done, we have a responsibility to intervene, and intervene we do, but keeping within the legislation that guides us every day in what we do. We do not dream and then go out there and independently do our own thing.
The framers of the existing legislation, which we use and have to continue to use until it is legally amended or removed – here I am referring to the legal luminaries of the 1960s and the 1970s – would have framed a series of legislation that guides us at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and, by extension, the various local government organs, within the ten administrative regions, on how we do things.
Chapter 28:01, the Municipal and District Councils Act, provides that where the local government bodies are not performing, and by that we mean they are not delivering the goods and the services that they are expected to provide - the quality of those goods and services; the timeliness of those goods and services - there is a mechanism that allows us to intervene with a view to remedying the situation. It is not interfering; it is intervention to bring about the desired change which will reflect what is in the legislation. Chapter 28:01, may I refer the Opposition Member to section 305? He could read it now or when he gets home. May I refer him also to Chapter 28:02, section 30? He could read it now or when he gets home. Those pieces of legislation, inter alia, provide mechanisms for dealing with situations where the number of Members of the council, within the NDC, falls below the quorum. We did not put that there. It is not the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development which puts that there. It is not the PPP which puts that there. [Mr. Jones: But it is the PPP that is not calling elections.] My friends, it is the legislation that guides us. It allows us, under certain situations, to put public servants... The framers of the legislation, those brilliant lawyers of yesteryear, guided by no less a person than Mr. L.F.S. Burnham, who no doubt had wanted to centralise the powers, keep it in the centre here, in the metropolis, and that is what we follow. Until we can change that, using the correct legal methods, we have to work with that. We work with that. In addition, the legislation also provides that where the business of the council... [Interruption]
I wish to deal with the issue of the IMCs because that would appear to be a big issue. The implementation of Interim Management Committees is not something we created at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. It is borne out in the legislation. The legislation makes provision for where the local government body, the elected body, has become depleted, for example, the numbers, and that is one instance, where the affairs are not being managed properly, where the resources are not being utilised properly, it allows for members of that neighbourhood, that municipality, to petition the Minister. It is not to petition to remove, but to petition the Minister with an expectation that the issues that gave rise to the petition will be addressed.
The legislation also guides us further in how this should be done. The Minister may order a public inquiry, not a private inquiry. My friends, all of the inquiries that we have done have been public inquiries. All have been advertised in the press and in the gazette. It is not confined to the petitioners only. Anybody aggrieved by the actions or decisions of that NDC is free to attend that public inquiry. In fact, when we advertised the name of the Commissioner, the place, the time and the date of the inquiry...all this information was part of the advertisement. People are free. If they do not turn up to the inquiry, you do not want the Minister to go and get them to come. The Commissioner listens to everyone who attends the inquiry. At the end of that inquiry, a report is presented. That report carries with it recommendations. Many of these recommendations come from the very people who attend the inquiry. The Commissioner is limited in terms of his/her contribution to the report. The Minister acts on the basis of the report. [Mr. B. Williams: So, you do not publish the report. How would we know what is in the report?] It is a public document always available.
What we have been doing at the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development is part of a reform process. While you are at the Select Committee working on your legislative reforms - and we sincerely hope that there will be a meeting of minds on these reforms – we, at the level of the Ministry of Local Government, also engage in our reforms. Our reforms are not just restricted to the employees of the Ministries who which have to go out there because they are an integral part of our oversight and guidance process, but also in the villages.
The IMCs that have been installed throughout this country traverse the ten Administrative Regions of this country. It is not, as proffered by some, that we have targeted particular Regions or particular neighbourhoods. That is not so; it is across the ten Administrative Regions. It arises out of petitions from people or conditions deteriorating within the NDC that require our immediate actions.
There are 65 NDCs across this country. If I am to be alarmed by what is said on the other side, one will think that about 50 or 60 of these NDCs are IMCs. In fact, 29 of those 65 NDCs are IMCs. Those IMCs were installed over a period of eleven years. It is not that in 2012 we started to install IMCs as many are putting out in the public purview – 29!
Training is another important aspect of our work at the Ministry. I mention these things because the message that I want to get across is that we are not sitting docile, waiting on a Select Committee to come up with the legislative agenda so that we can have... We are already part of the reform process. We have gone further than you have gone and we are preparing. In the process of preparing we have been reaching out into the villages and communities. We have been encouraging the Councils to reach out to the people. In the process, I have discerned that, for example, the municipality in Region 4 does not reach out to the people. I have gone and have asked them, “Who is your Councillor?” and they do not know. They do not reach out. This is part of the reform. We are helping you too. This is part of the reform that we are engaged in.
The implications of not having Local Government Elections are well known. We have determined that besides the depleted counties, there is also the issue of accountability. It is a big issue - accountability for resources. It is an issue that transcends Administrative Regions, that transcends NDCs and municipalities. So when we reach out like I did recently in Wismar and Linden and when I reach out as we did recently in Corriverton, we do not target specific NDCs, We have a programme that will see us reaching out to all 65 and all six municipalities. When we do, it is not only to see what is happening, it is not only to listen to the people’s concerns, but to determine with engagement with the people how we can deal with these concerns.
We are aware that the ultimate direction in which we are gravitating is the holding of Local Government Elections. That is why I started out by saying, and I have to repeat, that the non-inclusion of the legislative reforms, as set out in our Constitution, has resulted in Parliament’s continuous postponement of the holding of these Elections. The reform about which we speak is a joint activity of the Government and the Opposition.
I use this opportunity to call on that side of the House to work with us on this side of the House. Do not see this as an opportunity merely to use the one-seat majority you have to advance the process without the benefit of contributions from the Government side. May I add that, at the end of it all, we must put the Guyanese people first? As I join with my colleague, the Hon. Minister Ganga Persaud, in asking that the amendments to this legislation be approved, I ask that we see this as a collective responsibility and we make a concerted effort, a determined effort, to bring conclusion to the legislative process so that we can have these Elections. I assure you that we are prepared. I do not know about you, but we are prepared.
Thank you. [Applause]
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