LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS SHOULD BE PRECEDED BY A SCRAPPING OF THE EXISTING SYSTEM
Local Government in Guyana has had many still births. It was never given the oxygen to breathe. It has lacked renewal and its growth has historically been stunted.
We speak with great pride about our village system but this system was always in tatters. It never had a glorious system. It never got going under colonial Guyana and after independence it was a victim of malignant neglect.
The last Local Government Elections were held eighteen years ago. Before that there was a similar period in which there were no Local Government Elections.
When we therefore speak about Local Government we are in fact speaking about an underdeveloped feature of public administration, one that our leaders and people have little experience with, and one that is part of the malaise of government.
Guyana has always been blighted by ineffective government but the lack of efficacy of government is directly related to the size and layers of this government.
For a small population, Guyana has a humungous government plastered in various layers. We have a big Central Government, then an expansive Neighborhood Democratic System which reports to a huge and costly Regional Administration System comprising of ten regions.
Add to this the size of the police, army, judiciary and numerous government agencies and what we have is an unwieldy public administration system.
This system had other layers which were removed. There was what was called the Supreme Congress of the People and other Local Government superstructures that were part of an experiment to model Guyana after the system in Cuba so as to find a way of grant political legitimacy to the then PNC government which was desperate to avoid holding National and Local Government Elections which it knew it would have to rig.
The public were sold the idea that this system was a means of having representation from the bottom up, just like in Cuba. It was argued that this model was superior to the one that was left us by the British and that under this socialist system, the people would have a greater say in the management if their own affairs.
The problem in Guyana has never been about how the country should be ruled. The problem has always been about who should rule. The people of Guyana have no problems with top-down government. They have a problem with who constitutes the government.
And not willing to face this reality we continue to perpetuate having a Local Government system elected by the people but in which elections have not been held for close to twenty years.
And to excuse this failing, we argue that we have to reinvent the system of Local Government that the British left us. And so we destroyed the Village Councils and replaced them with Neighborhood Democratic Councils which served only to further distance the people from their own local administration.
Then on top of this, we placed a Regional Democratic Council and in a small country like Guyana, we have ten of these and within many of these regions there are Municipal and Town Councils.
When the British left us forty six years ago, the combined strength of the police and the army was less than 2,000 persons. Later this was expanded under an independent Guyana to as much as 20,000 ranks if one includes all the para- military organizations that existed.
It was an arrangement that would literally become costly and eventually would disintegrate. We still however do not appreciate that what we need is not more government but less government and that a smaller government would be more effective.
Local Government reforms have been stalemated in discussions as to how to make this system more representative. The debate has been going on for eighteen years and no consensus has been arrived at between the sides.
There are two main areas of disagreement. The first is about the system of representation to use. There has been an agreement that a mixed system would be employed but no agreement as to ratio of each system. The second area of disagreement surrounds the formula for the transfer of resources from Central Government to local democratic bodies.
Both are really non-issues. There is no need to debate what electoral system should enjoy what proportion in the election of Neighborhood Democratic Councils. The parties should abandon the NDC and regional democratic systems. They are products of a socialist experiment premised on a different notion of local democracy to the one that is now being pursued.
The issue of a formula for Central Government transfers is also a non-issue because what is needed is not a fair system of allocating such transfers but rather to ensure in the shortest possible time that local authorities are self financing and self-sustaining.
In any event, Guyana does not have the human resources to effectively manage all these layers of public administration and therefore would be better advised to resort to a system of Village Councils such as what existed in colonial Guyana.
If such a system is reintroduced it should do so as the expense of the socialist-inspired Neighborhood Democratic Councils and the Regional Democratic Councils. Power should be restored to the level of the village with a strong Local Government Ministry to exercise regulatory control and undertake major infrastructural works which cannot be undertaken at the village level.
Such a system will immediately solve the problem of the electoral system to be used. Each village would be divided into segments and there would be run-off elections for the Village Councils. This would bring the people closer to their representatives.