Plaisance residents yesterday protested the replacement of the community’s Overseer with someone who they say is insufficiently experienced, but Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker maintained that the new holder of the post possesses superior academic qualifications and diverse, relevant work experience.
Residents of the East Coast Demerara (ECD) community said the fact that Deborah McDowell, who has served as overseer since last year, is being made to train her replacement, is evidence that she holds superior qualifications. Whittaker however, said he did not know of such an arrangement, while adding that training is handled by various local government institutions.
Last month, the Interim Manage-ment Committee (IMC) for the Plaisance/Industry Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) advertised vacancies for the positions of Overseer and Assistant Overseer. Though McDowell was the substantive officer in this regard, Whittaker said yesterday she was acting in the capacity following a vacancy last year.
McDowell had applied for both positions and was found adequately qualified to serve as Assistant overseer. Meanwhile, someone else was given the overseer position, effectively making him her supervisor, although, residents say, she is now required to train him.
Responding to calls being made by protestors, Whittaker told Stabroek News that there seems to have been expectations on the part of McDowell and others that she would be appointed overseer.
The panel which decided on the placements, however, decided differently. Whittaker said the panel was made up of several officials, including Local Government Ministry Perma-nent Secretary Collin Croal, the Deputy Regional Executive Officer (REO) of the Region 4 Regional Democratic Council as well as the region’s Principal Development Officer.
McDowell’s replacement, said to be from outside of the community, is reported to have at least five CSEC subjects, including Mathematics and English Language in which he attained grade threes, Whittaker disclosed. The replacement is also said to have a certificate in Industrial Relations from the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education as well as qualifications in computerised accounting. Whittaker also said the applicant served as a Legal Clerk as well as a Customs Clerk. On the other hand, McDowell is said to have achieved grade fours in both Mathematics and English Language and possesses a certificate in Information Technology.
The minister did admit that McDowell has the benefit of having served in the above-mentioned capacity for some time, but says that when the factors are looked at all together he agrees with the panel’s decision.
Residents of the village, however, believe McDowell’s experience should have made her the obvious pick, especially since the job advertisement called for knowledge about local government, which her replacement does not possess. They also believe that this latest move is a continuation of the stretch of disappointments where overseers are concerned.
Plaisance community organiser Rodwell Lewis recalled that the problem started with the removal of Faith Price, a former overseer. Lewis said Price worked with the NDC for 18 years but was let go because she constantly went against the ambitions of the installed IMC. Price was eventually replaced with Greeta McDurby, who was also removed from the Plaisance/Industry NDC and sent to the Beterverwagting (BV) NDC, Lewis said. McDurby was then replaced with Karen Williams, who left last year after a controversy.
Since Williams left, McDowell, who functioned previously as Market Clerk, has been carrying out the functions required of an overseer. “We think that we will have a repeat of same, and that is why we will voice our concern to this effect,” Lewis told reporters yesterday.
“Local government elections is the only thing that will solve the woes and cries of the villages. We must have local government elections and when that is done, regardless of what is done, we would have to abide,” he added.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Ernest Elliot was present on the picket line and he says his presence was prompted by complaints made by community members to the main opposition coalition.
“Why bring somebody to be trained by this person who is in the job all the time. She is not competent enough to fill that vacancy? Elliot asked. He also said local government elections is needed as well as the setting up of a Local Government Commission, which will nullify the Local Government Ministry’s ability to interfere in the matters of local authorities.
“Once that is in place, you will not have the minister trampling on the rights of the people in the various NDCs and that is why we are out here… allow the community to make decisions for themselves. Let them (government) remove from it and allow the NDC to function, let us hold local government elections and all the nonsense will stop,” Elliot continued.
People’s National Congress (PNC) member and Plaisance resident Shawn Austin was also on the picket line. He said, “What we want is for them to desist from the practices of imposing people on us. What we are calling for is local government elections rather than an IMC. We don’t even know his (the IMC Chairman) name. If he used to engage the community we would have known his name, he is hiding under a rock.”
The Plaisance/Industry NDC was replaced with an IMC in 2012 following claims by government of maladministration. Residents say that the IMC was installed without their knowledge. Lewis said yesterday that a commission from the local government ministry visited the community in 2012 and claimed that it was there to investigate the goings on of the NDC. The IMC was subsequently installed and there have been complaints about it since, residents say. Of the 14 members of the ministry-appointed IMC, only two were from the Plaisance/ Industry area.