Central government has a constitutional duty to support local democracy and the work of local democratic organs (municipalities and neighbourhood democratic councils). The failure of successive People’s Progressive Party Civic administrations to discharge this responsibility had resulted in hindering council’s ability to perform their functions. This led to deep dissatisfaction in communities and to a crisis in local governance – all to the detriment of people and their well-being.
Two primary objectives of Local Government are to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of communities; and to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities. The major goals of Local Government are:
– Improving the local environment;
– Providing and developing local open space and recreation facilities;
– Setting strategic policy directions;
– Preparing annual plans, budgets and long-term council community plans;
– Acting on behalf of other principals such as central government e.g. managing local grants;
– Administering responsibilities under laws and regulations e.g. building and sanitation;
– Regulating local nuisances such as animal and pest control;
– Providing services relevant to road maintenance, solid waste collection and disposal, park maintenance, libraries, etc.;
– Providing an infrastructural and planning framework in which communities can grow and the economy can flourish;
– Coordinating with other agencies operating locally e.g. Police;
– Promoting cultural and sporting events;
– Promoting local visitor and tourism events;
– Consulting with residents towards improving service provision;
– Developing and advancing community viewpoints;
– Defining and enforcing appropriate rights within communities
The Joint Task Force on Local Government Reform which was commissioned by former President Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition, Desmond Hoyte began its work in May-June 2001 and submitted its Report in December 2003. The Task Force’s Terms of Reference were:
– Generally to ensure the conclusion of the Constitutional reform process and give effect to the new Constitutional provisions regarding local democracy;
– Specifically to monitor and guide the drafting, passing and implementation of legislation to give greater autonomy to local government bodies including the establishment of the local government commission [and] the formulation and implementation of objective criteria for the purpose of the allocation of resources to, and the garnering of resources by local government organs;
– To recommend measures for continuous education programmes on the new local government system, and;
– To recommend to the Local Government Commission mechanisms to monitor the work and functions of all established local government institutions and bodies.
A key requirement to enable local government organs to effectively discharge their responsibilities (within the constitutional provision of autonomy) is having adequate financial resources. In this regard, Art. 77 A. says that Parliament shall by law provide for the formulation and implementation of objective criteria for the purpose of the allocation of resources to, and the garnering of resources by local democratic organs.
On the question of garnering of resources, the Task Force’s recommendations were that “Local government bodies should be empowered to impose rates and taxes on property” and proposed that “NDCs collects the rates and share same with the lower tier”.
It stated further that “Local Government councils should be empowered to approach donor agencies so as to seek and obtain from them, resources required for the development or enhancement of their respective localities, such as waste disposal facilities; composting facilities; landfill sites; incinerators and economic projects, among others.
Proposals on criteria for the allocation of resources or fiscal transfers (from central government to local government bodies) were advanced. First, it was determined that any such criteria had to be informed by a premise. The premise, in this instance, is that there should be clear definitions with regard to the functions to be undertaken by the various levels of government – central and local, local being regional, municipal, neighbourhood, etc.
Once that premise was established, the central government would be in a position to determine how much of its resources it would commit to each tier of government. The funds, having being allocated to the various tiers, would have to be sub-divided among the individual organs and certain criteria were identified to be factored in, to arrive at the respective amounts.
The role of local democratic organs, therefore, is clearly defined as part of the governance architecture or, as the constitution states: “Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organization of the State” (Art. 12).
Guyanese citizens were deprived for over two decades to elect new councillors to nine municipalities and sixty-five neighbourhood democratic councils. However, on Friday March 18, 2016, citizens, thanks to the Coalition government, were able to exercise their democratic and constitutional right to elect their local leaders. This year local elections are constitutionally due and will be held on Monday November 12, 2018.
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