The Ministry of the Presidency in collaboration with the Ministry of Communities will on Thursday 26th July host the inaugural National Conference of Local Democratic Organs (NCLDO) under the theme “Catalysing local government leadership for community and national development”.
This initiative will bring together the policy and administrative arms of all the local democratic organs (currently 10 regions, 9 municipalities and 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils – NDCs) to discuss their challenges of public service delivery; to examine the relationship among local, regional and central government; and most importantly, to consider the budgeting process for the 2019 financial year.
The President, following an earlier engagement with representatives of NDCs in East Berbice-Corentyne region, is quoted as saying:
“I am committed to local government, because I believe that the whole system of administration in this country rests on the NDCs, at the local level… this is the level at which true democracy prevails”
The question, perhaps, arises as to why government’s emphasis on local governance?
Local government is the form of governance that is closest to the people. It is essential to the democratic credence of the State and is vital for the meaningful involvement of people in the development of their communities. With the involvement of a large number of persons at the grass root level as its primary objective, it is one of the means by which the ideals of a truly participatory democracy can be realised. Local government also has an extensive area of responsibility that directly impacts on the quality of life of its constituents.
Local government has a long history. In Guyana, it dates back to the establishment of Georgetown in 1837, the village movement that was set in motion with the purchasing of Plantation Northbrook by the freed Africans, the enactment of the Local Government Act 1945 and related legislation to the enactment of the new Constitution in 1980 which introduced a revamped system. Not only does local government have a long history, but it is in a defining moment of history.
This administration has resolutely and strategically embraced Local Government as an important partner to the national development agenda. Our work programme acknowledges this as a necessary condition and, in collaboration with local and international partners, have focused on strengthening the capacity of all local democratic organs (LDOs) to rise above the challenges and effectively service the demands of the community.
In embracing a decentralised approach to governance, we embrace the vision of local organs moving beyond the conventional regulatory and maintenance functions, and entering into the wider and vital arena of development as articulated by the State Paper No. 4 of 1980 introducing the new system.
This approach is validated by global trends, which place local government increasingly in the centre of the global development agenda. Further, it is accepted in some quarters that vibrant local governments are an important part of a well-governed and responsive public sector in economically successful countries. However, among developing countries, local governments have been found to be challenged by a variety of (governance) issues, and as a result have not been well-governed and responsive to local needs as they ought to be.
Guyana unfortunately is not immune from these challenges, some of which were self-inflicted with the intent of hoarding power and micromanaging communities countrywide. Despite the fact that we have a progressive legislative framework that is enshrined in our Supreme law, a feature which is absent in other Commonwealth Caribbean states, local government organs had been ignored and their capacities severely degraded to the point of irrelevance.
Guyanese may recall the wanton disregard for democratically elected councillors through the imposition of Interim Management Committees (IMCs), the intimidation of administrative staff who resisted political manipulation, and the fact that a generation of Guyanese was denied exposure to local governance (a constitutional right) until 2016, all combined to deepen public distrust and disinterest in the system of local government and ultimately reduce the capacities of these organs to deliver vital services.
It was against this backdrop that this administration set out on a course to shift the trajectory of governance. Our mandate as set out by President Granger is to reverse the culture of control and dominance by the Central government and replace it with the attitude of collaboration and facilitation to ensure that local organs deliver effective, efficient and sustainable services.
Governments’ investment of $ 2.9 bln, to enable the holding of LGE in 2018 inter alia, represents both a political commitment to democratic governance and a development commitment to consolidate the LG agenda. This entails LDOs to be better resourced, organised and structured to be effective to achieve a consistent level of performance. In pursuit of this objective it is generally accepted that local democratic organs must enhance (their) capacities continuously.
The global and national priorities, compounded by the absence of LGE (democratic renewal) for over two decades, have exposed the weaknesses of LDOs to effectively respond to the demands of the provision of public services at the local level. In fact, for too many LDOs it is a day-to-day struggle to perform at a minimum standard.
Combined with these are the troubling gaps existing in the coordination and coherence of policy formulation and project implementation. Closing these gaps can release significant resources to LDOs, to expand service provision and improve effectiveness. Improved efficiency can also result from better coordination among LDOs and between the local and national governments.
The NCLDO is therefore designed to facilitate dialogue and development of local government leadership. It is intended to afford the opportunity to leaders and LG actors to identify and recommend solutions to the challenges of effectively responding to their mandate.
We are cognizant that simply devolving power without the necessary resources and support will not do. Central government is putting money into realising this process of local government renewal and restoration.
Through the rebuilding and strengthening of the system of local democracy, Guyanese can look forward to enhanced public service delivery, regardless of where in Guyana they may live, as we seek to realise the good life for all.
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