Are we fooling ourselves into believing that local government elections will change things in Guyana? What will it change?
Local government in Guyana faces three main challenges. Having local government elections will not fundamentally address these challenges.
The first challenge is that the local government architecture in Guyana is too expansive. We are a country with less than a million people, yet we have more than fifty NDCs, ten Regional administrations, and now nine municipalities. Lethem has less people than some wards in Georgetown and it is a town. That has to be a joke!
Have we not learnt anything from the British? The village system which they established was superintended by village councils that did not work. These councils remained subservient and dependent on central government? We have had years of negotiations on local government reform. These negotiations have not fundamentally altered the structure of local government.
The system for example has not been revamped so as to grant greater devolution of powers.
Even with the new formula for allocating revenues to local government organs, local government bodies will remain dependent and subservient to central government. Local government elections will not change this dependent relationship because the relationship between central government and local government bodies remains one of master and servant.
One of the major challenges facing the local government system in Guyana is the overcoming historical legacies. The village system in Guyana was created around sugar plantations. The main historical bugbear faced by villages was the high cost of drainage and irrigation. Under colonial Guyana, the village councils could never afford to carry the cost of drainage. There is no difference today.
NDCs are too small and their resource base is too narrow.
The municipalities also cannot be converted into public corporations as is the case in some Caribbean countries. Their population base and catchment is too small to allow any such corporation to be viable.
Viability is dependent not just on financial resources but equally about the quality of human resources. Local government organs will always end up having to compete with the private sector and the government to attract the best human resources in the country.
There is a dearth of human resources in communities. It is a myth that the villages and municipalities are awash with available administrative and management skills.
They are not. In most cases, these local government organs end up scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to find people to carry out the management of their various local government bodies. Most of the highly skilled and qualified persons are either out of the country, working for government or within the private sector. Not much is left for the municipalities to tap into.
Local government elections will not throw up new talent. This is a myth. The system will continue to be afflicted by lack of human resources.
Look at Georgetown. The markets ended up in a rundown state; the cemetery has been allowed to turn into a jungle and the drains are all cluttered up. Garbage is now all over the place and there is widespread illegal squatting and vending.
Had it not been for Government intervention, the capital would have been turned into shanty town.
The third main challenge is that local government elections will reproduce at another level the political confrontation and stagnation between the government and the main opposition.
Local government elections will be a two-party race between the PNCR and the PPPC. Forget about the AFC! The system is such that the AFC will not win a single municipality or NDC. The AFC will not also hold any balance of power in any NDC or municipality. The shortage of independent candidates suggests that even they realize that the system is stacked against them.
Essentially, therefore, what will happen is that local government elections will be a straight fight between the two main parties. Local government organs emerging out of any local government elections will therefore be a battleground between the two main parties.
It will lead to the same old political paralysis and stagnation. It will perpetuate ethnic voting. In other words, it will perpetuate the same rotten political culture from which so many people wish to escape.
What difference will it make to your lives and to your communities? Not much! That much is certain!
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