After 21 years, the long overdue Local Government Elections has finally been set for March 18, 2016, Minster of Communities Ronald Bulkan announced yesterday in a press conference.
The elections were last held in 1994, even though the constitution clearly stipulated that that they should be held every three years. The extensive delay was caused by reforms agreed to by the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government and the People’s National Congress. The last bits of legislation were passed this year.
Over the years, there were many calls and protest actions for the then PPP government to hold the elections. The PPP had even vowed that once it was re-elected in the 2011 General and Regional Elections, the elections would be held within a year. However, after their victory, there were no further talks on the side of the government for the holding of the polls.
Declaring a date for the polls was one of the promises of the coalition government.
Speaking at the media briefing, Bulkan said that it was the former government that showed reluctance for the holding of the elections while the APNU+AFC coalition fervently pursued its occurrence.
The elections will be held in nine towns and 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs). Bulkan bemoaned that for too long the people were denied their right to elect their own local leaders.
“This is an important time in our history; your government recently declared that Guyanese will have the opportunity to democratically elect Councillors to manage Towns and Neighbourhoods,” he said.
The polls are essential because the entire Local Government system is “rotten” and in need of rehabilitation, he added.
“Democratic renewal of local government organs is long overdue,” he stated.
A strong local government, he said, is at the heart of national development since it is those who exercise executive power at the Municipal and Neighbourhood levels that directly determine and decide where and how tax dollars will be used to develop individual communities and ultimately, the nation.
He said that Local Governments are mandated by law to provide services such as improving living conditions, creating employment in the various local areas, maintaining roads, bridges and other important infrastructure, garbage collection, cleaning of drains, promoting a healthy environment and encouraging citizen involvement in their communities.
“As Guyanese who have been living without a functioning local government system, we can all attest to the necessity of restoring and repairing the dysfunctional system which currently exists, since we have experienced the results of the collapse of local government systems,” Bulkan asserted.
He added that the government was committed to empowering Local Democratic Organs to carry out their mandate as stated in Articles 74 and 75 by replacing the “heavy fist” of central government interference with helpful intervention to assist local bodies to do their work.
“In other words, the relationship between central and local government must, and will, be altered and corrected in accordance with constitutional provisions,” he emphasized.
According to Article 74 of the Constitution it shall be the primary duty of local democratic organs to ensure, in accordance with law, the efficient management and development of their areas and provide leadership by example. While, Article 75 states: “Parliament shall provide that Local Democratic Organs shall be autonomous…”
Bulkan said that Guyanese will be making a “break” with the past when they vote in their own local leaders on March 18. “…The new leaders will not just replace the old ones. The new, democratically elected officials, will be empowered according to law, and they will be expected to perform their decision-making roles, according to law. They will not be subject to domination and control by central government.” He affirmed.
He said that the leaders will have the power to make decisions that affect citizens living within the respective Municipalities and NDCs, thus making it crucial for each eligible voter to cast a ballot, according to his or her conscience. “
If you do not vote, other people will choose local government officials without your input,” he charged.
He called on Guyanese to ponder on the important matters that will determine the direction of Guyana’s development for the next three years.
Bulkan advised voters to enlighten themselves of what each candidate has to offer “…Listen to all of them – then, cast your ballot based on the issues”.
Township and interim management committees
Bulkan said that although township orders for Mabaruma, Bartica and Lethem have already been tabled and passed, consequently adding them to the six existing Municipalities, the Ministry has not managed to work out arrangements for Mahdia to be named a town.
He stated that this was so because of certain issues relating to the constituency boundaries within the intended Township or Municipality.
He stated that Interim Management Committees will become something of the past once the polls are held.
There were discussions for a structural plan taking place between members of the communities and RDCs of their respective areas. He said that most of the issues that need to be addressed in these communities are solid waste management; adequate provision of continuous and reliable energy; provision of pure water supply; maintenance of roads and street lights and upgrading of health centres.
“That’s why we need councils that are formed through the democratic council to negotiate with the central government to identify the priority activities that the communities need,” he posited.
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