There is a movement afoot to include the widest possible section of the various communities to manage their affairs. At last the laws governing Local Government Elections have been modified to include even an independent candidate.
Up until recently, voting was done along party lines. For the last Local Government Elections, the then Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte had asked President Cheddi Jagan to let the people determine their fate by allowing them to manage their affairs. Hoyte contended that this should be the case in the various local authority areas. The parties could field slates to contest the elections in the city. Jagan did not concede.
Indeed, in many areas the people wish to have their residents manage the affairs of the city. The only reason they failed in many cases was because they were not allowed to dictate their own affairs. For example, knowing that rates and taxes represent the lifeblood of the Neighbourhood Democratic Council, the people were inclined to raise them to meaningful levels. The government would not allow any such increases.
Even in the towns, the management was not free. No Municipality could claim to be independent. The government had to approve the budgets, determine whether changes were possible and planned the interventions.
Georgetown was a classic case of a Municipality being held under the thumb of the government. The government would move into the city and simply undertake road repairs without notifying the Municipality. On the one occasion when City Hall objected, the objection proved to be an exercise in futility.
The Mayor had ordered the arrest of the contractor and the seizure of the equipment as was within his powers. The government merely moved in and ordered the release of everyone and everything since the Minister had the final say in the operations of the Municipality.
City Hall could not institute its own parking lots and charge fees as it is allowed to do today; it could not demand a portion of the Environmental Tax; and for certain, it was not allowed to charge the one per cent container tax on containers passing through the city and damaging the roads.
There have been amendments to the legislations giving the NDCs greater autonomy. Things are also at the stage where the Municipal Police, who are really the authorities in the city, can now function as an independent unit.
It is the same in the areas away from the city and the towns. People have come together to establish their own management teams. In fact, in four local government areas there will be no elections because there is no competing team. Those nominated would be considered duly elected.
This move to have people manage their own affairs can only redound to the good. The people know what they want; in cases where the support of the central government is needed the people are in the best position to make the recommendations. Failing to heed the need of the people saw many of the NDCs collapsing and being replaced with Interim Management Committees.
However, there is a new development. The presence of independents would make for a remarkable team of councillors. There are some who are targeting specific positions. Immediately, one can see tempers flaring at the first meetings to elect key officers. But this new system would be a test of our maturity.
There is one thing missing and that is the urgency on the part of the people to vote. Unlike General Elections, Local Government Elections are often low-keyed. It is as if the very voter has little interest in his community welfare but is more interested in the national business.
With the elections just about a month away there are no campaign meetings. Most people do not know their candidates unless they live in very small communities. There are also no posters of candidates. Perhaps funding is a crucial issue. Will innovation come to the fore? Will candidates parade in the area that they are contesting shaking hands with the potential voter as is the case in those larger societies where candidates clash?
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