I refer to your article reporting on the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development’s (MLGRD) end-of-year press conference and am troubled by what has been reported (SN, Dec 31, 2013). Your report quotes Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud as saying that his ministry now has its own legal department which has been established on the recommendation of Attorney General Anil Nandlall. Minister Persaud is further quoted as saying that the establishing of this department was informed by two main factors, these being (1) unrealistically low fines attached to the ministry`s bylaws with the need for a more “stringent solution” and (2) to provide technical support to local government organs, again in relation to “bylaws.”
Secondly the article reports Minister Persaud as saying that this ministry will now have an internal audit department which is expected to correct deficiencies and discrepancies documented by the Auditor General’s office each year and aid in improving the financial systems of the Regional Democratic Councils.
Quite apart from the fact that I have no idea what might conceivably constitute “ministry`s bylaws” or what are these “bylaws which govern regional democratic organs” I suggest that it is this ministry itself that is the source of the myriad problems bedevilling local democratic organs and therefore are not the ones to be offering the “solution.” Further, before seeking to address any bylaws the law itself should first be observed.
The 1980 Constitution ushered in a new and clearly defined role for local government. Clause 19 of its ‘long title’ (Interpretation) says as follows: “Any local government authority in existence immediately before the appointed day shall be deemed to be a local democratic organ for the purposes of the Constitution as if it were constituted thereunder.” The nomenclature is deliberate, in other words whereas formerly local government bodies such as village councils, district councils, etc, were generally referred to as local authorities, which did not necessarily define where the ‘authority’ originated from, the new constitution established where power resides, this being the electorate, hence the new terminology, ie local democratic organs. I emphasise the words local and democratic.
A further reading of the constitution establishes unambiguously as to where power/authority resides.
Art 9 reads in full as follows: “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and the democratic organs established by or under this Constitution.”
Art 12 reads in full as follows: “Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organization of the State.”
Finally, Chapter 7, ie, the chapter dealing with local government is titled ‘Local Democracy’ and is sub-titled ‘Local Democratic Organs.’ The operative words are “democracy” and “democratic”, nothing here about ministerial or central government control (I am tempted to add or Town Clerk!).
Allow me please to expand.
Art 75 reads in full as follows: “Parliament shall provide that local democratic organs shall be autonomous and take decisions which are binding upon their agencies and institutions, and upon the communities and citizens of their areas.”
Art 76 reads in full as follows: “Parliament may provide for regional democratic councils to raise their own revenues and to dispose of them for the benefit and welfare of their areas”; and finally,
Art 77: “The development programme of each region shall be integrated into the national development plans, and the Government shall allocate funds to each region to enable it to implement its development programme.”
With regard to Article 75 the definition of autonomy is: “Having the freedom to govern itself [of a country or region] or control its own affairs, and having the freedom to act independently.”
No Parliament since the promulgation of the 1980 Constitution has sought to give effect to Articles 76 or 77. Perhaps the time has come for discussions to begin as to when these should happen. In the meantime if this administration wishes to be seen as democratic and not despotic their active campaign whereby they are ruthlessly denuding, degutting and decimating duly-elected councils (RDCs, municipalities and NDCs) has to cease. This administration is executing violence to the constitution. Their current illegal actions against the RDC, Region 8 – and no doubt others as well ‒ provides clear illustration of this agenda of control and domination.
Guyana is too large to be effectively or efficiently managed from the centre. Our constitution recognizes this and provides for decentralization of authority and devolution of power. The now perennial presence of garbage and of flooding throughout our country have as its roots the failure of local authorities. With regard to the flooding I can scarcely imagine the anguish and heartbreak of victims in Airy Hall, Riverstown, Charity, areas in the Pomeroon, Mibicuri, Johanna, Yakusari and other parts of Black Bush who lost crops, cattle and livestock as reported in your newspaper the past week. The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of the PPP and central government who are denying local democracy.
Editor, Guyana continues to be at a crossroads. We now have a recalcitrant and obdurate executive that is determined to cherry-pick elements of the 2011 general and regional elections which allows for a minority to form the executive but determinedly seeks to deny the role of Parliament as “The supreme organ of democratic power in Guyana” (Art 50).
The language and the posture become shriller by the day. It is epitomized by the unhelpful and provocative mouthings of some of its top policymakers, among them being HPS Dr Roger Luncheon, Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh.
I may have strayed somewhat from where I started but I trust that you will accept the necessity for my contentions. In closing and taking a cue from Leon Suseran (SN, Dec 31, 2013) I wonder if you will permit me two personal statements. Firstly it is to extend 2014 wishes to Minister Ganga Persaud and to say that I look forward to our upcoming engagement on the 2014 budget, or in particular allocations to RDCs. Secondly it is to identify my person of the year 2013 as Mark DaCosta, a regular contributor to your paper. I have found his writings to be informative and insightful, purposeful and penetrating and to say to him that I look forward to seeing more of his contributions in 2014.