With prospects for local government elections this year looking increasingly slim, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan says he is open to the polls being held under the present laws while final agreement is hammered out on four bills packed with reforms.
The four local government bills seen as crucial for the holding of the polls are in limbo with Minister of Local Government Ganga Persaud silent on whether he would present them to the House before the parliamentary recess begins.
“I don’t know sir, I am overseas,” was the minister’s response yesterday when contacted by Stabroek News on whether he would be present at the next sitting of the National Assembly on August 7 to present the Bills. Government has twice deferred the second reading of the four Bills. On the last occasion, the government shelved its parliamentary business after a failed bid to force an adjournment of the National Assembly’s sitting to win consensus with the opposition on the contentious Amaila Falls Hydropower Project.
Reservations over two of the four local government bills were also among the reasons given by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds for the intended adjournment of that sitting. The government’s motion to adjourn the sitting was defeated by the opposition but since Persaud was not in the House to present the Bills, they could not be addressed.
At the previous week’s sitting, Persaud was present but remained mute when called upon to read the bills, even though Hinds hinted that the government may be willing to forego the reservations it had about two of the bills, if the administration’s Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and its motion to raise the debt ceiling—both to facilitate Amaila—were given safe passage by the opposition. The opposition had voted against both matters after raising several concerns but the AFC now says that it has no problem supporting the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill having studied government’s amendments.
The next sitting of the National Assembly is scheduled for August 7, three days before the start of the two-month annual parliamentary recess on August 10 and if the bills are not passed then and assented to by the President, local government elections would be unlikely this year.
When contacted, APNU leader David Granger told Stabroek News that as things stand at present, the coalition is not inclined to support an extension of the parliamentary session. He said that no proposal for an extension has been received and so the matter was not considered.
He said that the vacillation of the PPP/C on the matter of local government elections exposes the hypocrisy of the party and it is a clear indication that they have no intention of bringing the bills before the House. Extending the session is unlikely to bring about a change in the government’s attitude, he added. “The matter could be settled at one sitting,” he pointed out saying that at this point, it is a question of political will on the part of the PPP.
Meantime, Ramjattan said that the AFC would not support an extension of the parliamentary session. He said that for the party’s parliamentarians, the recess is the period that they would have scheduled for vacations and travel for business and medical reasons. Because of the razor-thin majority of the opposition in parliament and the need to be present for sittings, it is the only time that they have to accomplish some of these things, he said, adding that at least two or three of the AFC parliamentarians have indicated that they will be going overseas immediately after the session ends.
He said that if the local government bills are not addressed at the August 7 session, then more than likely, it would have to wait until October with polls then likely in the early quarter of 2014.
However, he said that the Bills can be easily approved and anything is possible but the government does not want local government polls.
The AFC leader said that if the government does not want to accept the new legislation, then they should go back to the old regime of laws and hold the polls under that legislation. “Let us move ahead with the old regime,” he said while stressing that local government polls are crucial.
Furthermore, Ramjattan said that the administration should make amendments if it is not in favour of two of the four Bills. He said that if the government says that the amendments will make them support the bills and the president will quickly assent to it, then depending on what the amendments are, the AFC is willing to compromise. The AFC leader pointed out that the new legislation is superior to the old and in the interest of local government elections, then they might very well have to compromise. “I really want the elections to be held this year,” he said adding that if the Bills could be passed next week and quickly assented to by the president then local government polls could be held in December.
But he was not hopeful that government would want to move in this direction as he said that the results will not be what they want. “They are scared of holding it,” Ramjattan said. “They are going to use all machinations and devices to push the polls off.”
Last month, Western missions and a host of institutions here issued a joint statement saying that the path is now clear for the approval of four key bills that would pave the way for local government elections and urging all parties and civil society to take the process to conclusion. The last local government elections were held in 1994.
“After months of debate, hard work, and compromise, the parliamentary Select Committee on Local Govern-ment has forged agreement on the four bills necessary to establish a more modern and effective system of local governance. This is a significant and positive step forward. We welcome this action on the part of Guyana’s elected representatives to come together in the national interest,” the statement had said.
“The path is now clear for approval of these four bills in the National Assembly before the upcoming annual recess. We encourage all parties, with the support of civil society, to build on the constructive progress and goodwill thus far achieved to complete these vital pieces of legislation in the coming days so that technical preparations for local government elections can begin as soon as possible,” it added.
The statement followed another earlier this year in which the four key Western missions in Guyana called for the holding of local government elections, saying that there is no valid justification for further delay, which they said is responsible for a persistent drag on Guyana’s national development.