What practical solutions to existing problems will local government elections (LGE) bring? I am hardly pessimistic or consider myself a stout realist; however I find myself skeptical of the dominant and assumed rhetoric portraying LGE will result in greater regional and local autonomy, representation and development; that LGE will deepen our democracy and redistribute power equally between levels of government and across constituencies (read groups within a defined geographic boundary).
It is not that I do not recognize the potential virtuous benefits of LGE; however the lack of critical analysis on the necessity of LGE as against its practicality is cause for concern. Practicality here refers to the dominant assumption and narrative underlying many public comments and discussions that LGE is required and a necessity to deepen our democracy and redistribute power equally. Just take a look at the following four excerpts from selected local newspapers:
1 – “Local Government is the heartbeat of the democratic process. It is the level of government that is closest to the people. It is at that level that ordinary citizens get a chance to engage most effectively in self-governance. The councilors live in the community. This makes them more accessible and accountable to the people…” Title: The impending local government elections could ignite the beginning of a new politics. Kaieteur News Online Edition. August 30, 2013.
2 – “It is the view of the Independent Party that local government elections and local representation are the bedrock of real democracy. People elected locally to represent their communities are more connected to those communities, have a greater understanding of those communities, and are better equipped to handle the interest of their communities.” Local government elections are the bedrock of real democracy. Stabroek News Online Edition, August 16, 2013.
3 – As he welcomed Chief of Party for the Guyana Leadership and Democracy Project (LEAD), Mr. Glenn Bradbury, at a reception held in his honour last Wednesday evening at the Cara Lodge in Quamina Street, Georgetown, the ambassador said he had heard from all stakeholders and all parties on how important it was for Guyana to hold local government elections. He said the National Assembly is poised to approve legislation that would pave the way for local government elections and a restoration of local governance; and he referred to a well-known letter writer who commented on the importance of this step, observing “we want our neighbourhoods fixed; we want our communities to have a real say; and we want strong, new, young leaders (who are) committed to their communities, and we want a strong local government system in place to enhance economic, political and social advancement.” Title: US ambassador hopes for stakeholder collaboration –on local Government elections this year. Guyana Chronicle Online Edition, July 28, 2013.
4 – “Let’s get on with the elections early next year, and let’s have a new start for Guyana local government… I think that this could have a transformational impact on the country by reconnecting people with their government,” Ambassador Ayre was quoted as saying.” Title: Ramotar signs into law three local govt bills. Guyana Times Online Edition, November 7, 2013.
What is missing from many of these calls and assumptions is the context in which LGE will be held. Prevailing political nepotism, growing income inequality between class and ethnic/racial groups, existing opportunities for corruption including alleged infiltration in Government by persons connected to and often times befitting from the illicit trade in narcotics, lack of transparency, economic domination by certain groups closely connected to the current administration, democratic centralization practiced by the ruling administration, inter-group and intra-group distrust, prevailing apathy regarding citizen participation in community development and perhaps most frightening, the lack of a leadership programme to prepare communities and groups and aspiring contestants present many and significant challenges to the hopes, aspirations and assumptions that many political groups and public commentators have tied their hope to vis-à-vis LGE.
Dare I say that should we move forward with LGE in the absence of strategies and activities to address the above mentioned contextual considerations we risk deepening corruption, existing inter-group tensions and opportunities for inter and intra-group cultural violence. As I noted I am a die-hard optimist, despite of the challenges of the current political and social context, history has taught us that inefficient and unproductive governance systems didn’t change themselves; people most often ordinary people changed them. And this is why the absence of: (1) any meaningful critical analysis on the necessity and practicality of LGE and (2) a comprehensive leadership development program, perhaps using the concept of servant leadership is cause of all of us to remain skeptical, distrustful of unsubstantiated assumptions that seem to reflect political opportunism and speak only to the architecture and functioning of LGE and the local government system.
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