APNU MP Ronald Bulkan says budget 2014 is another tool to be used by central government to subvert and undermine local authorities so that it can micromanage these jurisdictions from the capital.
Bulkan’s argument, offered yesterday during day one of the budget debate, is based on several factors including government’s provision this year of several billion dollars to various ministries to execute development projects, as opposed to giving the funds to Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Municipalities.
Government’s “subversive” and “undermining” tactics, Bulkan accused, also includes bypassing elected regional officials to manipulate some local authorities, and dismantling others as it sees fit.
While central government will be engaged in multi-billion dollar development projects across the regions during this year, Bulkan lamented, local authorities, collectively, will only receive about $359 million or less to supplement whatever they raise themselves towards implementing development projects.
The intention of the above mentioned actions, he said, is to stifle local authorities, and create circumstances that allow central government to decry the fabricated inefficiencies of said local authorities.
For instant, Bulkan sees government’s plan to spend $1 billion this year on a clean-up campaign as an attempt to undermine and embarrass. Presenting the budget last week, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh announced the impending clean-up initiative, specifying that $500,000 of the amount would be used to address related issues in the capital city. Singh had said that the investment is needed since various local authorizes seem “comatose,” as they are not addressing the solid waste management needs of their jurisdictions.
Bulkan, also the shadow local government minister asserted that government should be supporting local authorities financially and otherwise as they engage in such works, and suggested that Singh’s presentation made it clear that the undertaking would not be entrusted to local authorities, but other bodies as designated by central government.
He also highlighted allocations exceeding $1.5 billion to be used to implement developmental projects for vulnerable groups in communities across the ten regions. Again, Bulkan criticized, central government for not allowing the work to be done by NDCs and municipalities.
Bulkan is convinced that the actions alluded to are deliberate attempts by central government, to make local authorities look bad, to score political points, and to allow for the proliferation of its micromanagement of Guyana. He said the undertaking is the “height of lawlessness and that by continuing such actions government is “part of the problem.”
The role of the Local Govern-ment Ministry is not to suffocate, undermine and marginalize local government bodies but to support them, he argued.
Bulkan also said that central government even moves to control the functioning of local authorities through government-appointed officers – Regional Executive Officers (REOs) in the case of NDC’s, Town Clerks in the case if Municipalities, and Overseers in the case of Interim Management Committees (IMCs). On several occasions, he said, government has opted to meet and make plans with appointed REOs, choosing to exclude “democratically elected” officers from discussions.
This approach, he told the National Assembly, is producing very negative results.
One such inverse result, he related, is the alleged expenditure on $5 million in 2012 to purchase a Bedford truck to assist with the provision of health services in Region No.8. To date, Bulkan said, the truck has not materialised, and the council’s health committee has not been provided information on how the money was used.
Bulkan shared suspicions that the funds were used to purchase a pick-up truck for the Region No.8 REO. Meanwhile the Regional Chairman (RC), the elected head of the local authority, is made to use an ATV. Bulkan also alleged that the region’s vehicles, purchased with public funds, are being used to facilitate the work of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C). He further shared that $12 million was allocated to the Mahdia Hospital in 2013, and that the hospital is yet to receive the money.
Additionally, he said, several million dollars were expended to facilitate works to two of the region’s vehicles. To date, he said, one of the vehicles has not been returned to the region while the other has not worked since it was repaired.
In Tumatumari, he pointed out, sits a hydroelectric plant which has been tested and proven to be functional since 2008. Once fully operational, he said, residents of Linden, Mahdia and other areas would have continued access to reliable electricity at about half the price they currently pay.
Had central government engaged the relevant Regional Democratic Council (RDC), Bulkan said it would have been informed that the people see the operationalization of the power plant as a priority.
Bulkan ridiculed government for the shortcomings alluded to, and argues that the problem is its attempt to “manage” Guyana’s ten regions from Main Street (the Ministry of Finance). The Finance Minister, who was more or less quiet throughout Bulkan’s presentation, seemed annoyed at this particular statement. As Bulkan persisted on his lecture to the Finance Ministry, Singh was heard saying, “you talking about me? you want me talk about you,” pointing to Bulkan with his phone as he asked the question.
Unfazed by Singh’s heckle, Bulkan proceeded to issue a caution to central government against allocating funds based on what they determine to be the priorities of the various local authorities. He said that the elected councillors of Guyana’s NDCs and Muni-cipalities should be engaged in meaningful consultations and allowed to say what projects they think are important.
He also said that the opposition parties, which represent the majority of Guyana’s citizens, should have been included in discussions to articulate the interests of those they were sent to the National Assembly to represent.
Bulkan also labelled central government a “wrecking ball,” referring to its decision on several occasions to dismantle elected NDCs and replacing them with appointed IMCs. During his tenure, former local government minister Ganga Persaud proceeded to replace several NDCs with IMCs due after determining that the former were not executing their mandates.
“The government is making a mockery of local authority…the budget speaks of bypassing the statutory authority of local government bodies…this budget therefore cannot fly, the minister will have to go and come again,” Bulkan concluded.