Local Government Minis-ter Norman Whittaker declined to answer why government yesterday held a seminar on the role of elected officials in local development when it has not convened Local Government Elections for the past 20 years and has not moved to do so recently despite there being no confirmed impediments.
Stabroek News asked Whittaker at the Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) project-sponsored seminar held at the Regency Hotel, Hadfield Street, how the government would respond to criticism that while it refuses to call local government elections after 20 years, it was sponsoring a seminar based on the responsibilities of elected officials in local development.
An agitated Whittaker stated that this issue has been addressed at the level of President Donald Ramotar and the Cabinet and has been formally dealt with publicly. “I will not add to it and I will not subtract from it,” he added.
It was pointed out to him that despite the government and the ruling People’s Progressive Party saying that the Guyana Elections Commission is not ready nor is the public knowledgeable enough for elections to be held, these claims have been denounced by both GECOM and analysts. Whittaker responded that the questions posed by
Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Norman Whittaker (seated at left), Councillor, City of Toronto, and also Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Programme Director Michael Thompson (seated) with Permanent Secretary Collin Croal (standing at right) and others at the office of the Regional Democratic Council, Region Six. (GINA photo)
Stabroek News did not take away from what he stated previously and he would not be addressing the issue of local government elections at the seminar. According to Whittaker, local government elections are “not an activity or an event” but depends on what happens before and after.
Participants at the seminar were plentiful but it was noted that almost half of those who had previously registered were not in attendance for the opening presentations as their name cards were still at the registration table.
Stabroek News asked Whittaker to state of those present how many were elected officials and how many were appointed following the disbanding of neighbourhood democratic councils and regional democratic councils by the government. No answer was provided.
In his presentation, the minister spoke of the strides being made to uphold the democratic process within Guyana. He, however, failed to disclose the high level of Interim Management Committees across the regions that have taken over the operational facets from the elected Neighbourhood Dem-ocratic Councils.
Whittaker stated that he was not involved in the invitation process for the seminar and further stated that he had nothing to do with who the elected officials were and who were appointed officials. Deputy Mayor of Georgetown Patricia Chase-Green took the opportunity to question the minister on the relationship between the elected councils and the IMCs and requested that the minister acknowledge the level of appointed officials at the seminar.
Whittaker said that the appointment of IMCs is provided for under the
legislation. However, it was noted that the takeover of operations from elected officials and the long lives of IMCs goes against the intent of an interim committee.
The question and answer segment was quickly put to an end due to the line of questioning. Stabroek News was later told by CARILED’s country coordinator Dhanraj Singh that the workshop was not open to the media and reporters were only invited to attend the opening ceremony. Had that been enforced, there would have been no allotted time for the panel to be asked any questions.
Speaking to Stabroek News during a session break, CARILED’s Pro-gramme Director Alix Yule said that the project here could not await local government elections prior to hosting information seminars. She said that these seminars are to promote the democratic process.
Yule stated that seminars such as the one yesterday on the roles of elected officials, are to promote and encourage the functioning of local government at the community level in promoting and sustaining business and growth. She noted that at the local level, if persons have access to information, it will promote a system where “everyone will get behind the concept that eventually we need to have elections.”
Yule said that CARILED’s function is not to interfere with the politics of a country and the call for elections here had to come from the Guyanese community and that was part of the project’s goal: to have local and central government working with the communities and collaborating. She noted that part of the democratic process was to have these consultations but having a plan is only as good as the plan’s execution.
The keynote speaker, Councillor Michael Thompson of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Toronto told Stabroek News that he would be highlighting the ways in which opportunities can be created on a small scale that could have a snowball effect. He said that the local authorities are charged with helping communities in job creation and generating foreign and direct investment.
CARILED is funded by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) with in-kind contributions from Caribbean and Commonwealth countries. The total project value is approximately $23 million CAD, with $19 million CAD from DFATD and $4 million CAD from in-kind contributions from FCM and its membership, as well as partners in the Caribbean region and the Commonwealth.