Local government elections will not make much difference in your life or bring much improvement in your communities. Local government authorities have limited finances, poor administrative skills and without government subventions, are not able to do much.
Communities are at a low stage of development. It will take a massive influx of resources to develop these communities. Most communities, for example, do not have concrete drains. The cost of this basic infrastructure can never be met by local authorities. Thus, these communities and their local authorities will be dependent on central government until they enjoy modern amenities.
Local communities need a strong dose of central government investment. They need to be nursed to maturity before any attempt is made to “liberate” them through local government elections.
Local authorities lack the resources to undertake the infrastructure needed to become modern communities. Because they lack this capacity, they end up maintaining the status quo of dependence on central government financing.
Most of Guyana’s communities lie along the coast and were designed to keep persons tied to the plantations. When the plantations needed to release water, they did so into the drainage canals that ran through the villages, wreaking untold misfortune on the inhabitants. No amount of taxes collected was ever sufficient to deal with this and the myriad other problems that these communities encountered as surrogates of the plantations.
And the collection of taxes has always been a bugbear. First of all, there are always problems with the rate of tax collections in communities. This rate has historically been poor. In short, if people can delay not paying, they do not pay, and this is why when you examine rates and taxes within the system you do not only find that it is abysmally low in relation to the services to be provided, but the collection rate is low.
Modernizing the local government system will have to involve granting the local authorities the power to levy on the assets on rate payers, including seizing property for non-payment of rates and taxes. But this will never pass muster in a country in which the political parties believe that patronage involves ignoring the civil duties of citizens.
On top of this, for a small country that inherited a local government system that was highly dependent on central government, Guyana has distorted the system further by instituting many layers of local authorities. These were intended to mimic the system in Cuba, but have ended up becoming highly burdensome.
So there is a layer known as the NDC which lacks economies of scale; then there are municipalities which tend to be larger but which are highly politicized; then there is a regional layer in a country of 750,000 persons divided into ten administrative regions.
These multiple layers also present human resource constraints. It is hard enough to find enough talent for parliament, much less to find enough qualified and competent persons to be councilors of the municipalities, and then within the villages to find sufficient numbers of similarly competent persons to become NDC councilors.
On top of that, more persons have to be found by the political parties to be part of the regional system. The political parties which contest local government elections will always be challenged to find sufficient competent persons to fill all of these layers.
The entire system needs to be simplified. Either the regional system is dissolved or if it be kept, the NDCs are done away with. They cannot co-exist.
The system needs to be revamped. Unfortunately, loyalty to a party’s history prevents the system from being completely disassembled, because no one wants to argue that our still very much socialist local government structure is ill-suited to modern local government demands.
So Guyana ends up fiddling with a few formulas, and in the end entrench a structure that remains antiquated and backward. If any liberation is needed it is from the resistance to dismantling the entire system and replacing it with a less politicized system.
Why, for example, should the elections not be a full first-past-the-post system, where you vote only for candidates and discard the proportional representation element? But that we know will never happen, and therefore local government will not bring about any positive change, ever.
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