After more than two decades of delays, promises and Parliamentary clashes by lawmakers, it appears that Local Government Elections (LGE) is on course to be held this year.
This announcement was made yesterday by Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, as an unopposed Government piloted the last bit of legislation needed to hold the elections – the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2015.
The passage of the Bill came even as the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), in Opposition now following its first loss in two decades at the May 11 general elections, continues its boycott of the National Assembly.
Already, parts of the Bill were passed and assented to in 2013 under the last Parliament – the Fiscal Transfer Act, the Municipal and District Council Amendment Act, and the Local Government Commission Act.
The amendment yesterday had been passed by the Opposition-controlled National Assembly during the 10th Parliament, but was not assented to by former President Donald Ramotar, who claimed that it was unconstitutional.
In essence, the legislation gives financial independence to Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and municipalities across the country, an area that is aggressively being pushed by the new administration.
Granger had made it clear that LGE remained a top priority of his Government, in the face of growing local and international pressure.
During his presentation yesterday before the passage of the amendment, Bulkan noted that it had its genesis in a number of Bills tabled in 2012.
Local government reforms had started back in the late 1990’s following political standoffs as a result of the stormy 1997 General and Regional Elections.
CARICOM had intervened, resulting in what is known as the Herdmanston Accord, which called for a number of reforms, including LGE. The last one was held in 1994.
Under the reforms, NDCs and municipalities in addition to being empowered to deal with their own revenues will be able to penalize defaulters in areas of drainage.
Bulkan said he spoke to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday and was given assurances that the date for LGE will be a top one on the Commission’s agenda come August 18th. On that date, GECOM is expected to ratify a December date.
The Minister stressed that while he had spoken about a desire of a November date, GECOM had assured December, likely before Christmas.
Bulkan was critical of an article in the PPP-owned Mirror newspaper which called for elections to be held in the latter part of 2016.
Bulkan believes that the Opposition is fearful of losing control of the NDCs and other local government organs which will become independent.
“It is here that the laws are made…not at media conferences…” he said, calling for the Opposition to take up their responsibilities and represent their constituencies.
Member of Parliament, Michael Carrington, in his maiden presentation, called for possibilities of NDCs being able to borrow. He stressed it should be lauded that Government is giving away authority to the local governments, which is not an easy thing.
Vice President and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan explained that the amendment seeks to diffuse power from the central level to the NDC.
“There is a simple reason – NDCs and other such bodies know what is needed in the communities; they know the geography, the peculiar circumstances. Issues of drainage, strays, a tractor driving on a muddy dam…they are more knowledgeable.”
He admitted that it will help to relieve the strain on the police in the communities.
Attorney General Basil Williams, speaking on the critical nature of the amendment, noted that it represents the “last obstacle” to the Guyanese people when it comes to true empowerment.
He assured that unlike the last Government, the Granger administration remains committed to promises made that it will assent to decisions taken in the National Assembly.
Bulkan, in calling for support of the legislation, said it will release the social energy of Guyanese and promote democracy.
“The elections will not come cheap and unless held will continue to see Guyana experiencing a local government system that is handicapped… Local Government Elections must be seen as an investment,” he stressed.
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