Corbin seeks meeting with President
The main opposition PNCR yesterday accused the ruling PPP/C of trying to arbitrarily abandon the local government reform process and party leader Robert Corbin has written President Bharrat Jagdeo requesting an urgent meeting on the situation.
According to the PNCR, last week Clinton Collymore, PPP/C Co-chair of the bi-partisan task force on local government reform, submitted a memorandum to the Presi-dent, recommending that its remaining work be taken up by Cabinet because of a deadlock. Corbin, who received a copy of the memo in his capacity as Opposition Leader, yesterday denied any deadlock and described Collymore’s action as unilateral, explaining that it was done without the knowledge of the opposition members of task force. Corbin said Collymore’s action had to be approved by the PPP/C, which he accused of trying to derail local government reform as mandated by the constitution and outlined in the draft Report of the Task Force. “It is known that the PPP is unhappy with many of the recommendations, some of which will remove the powers of the Minister with the establishment of the Local Government Commission,” he said, reiterating the Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties’ position that the reforms must be put in place to ensure that the local government system was liberated.
Asked to comment on Corbin’s response, Presiden-tial Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira told the Stabroek News that she had not seen his letter. She did say, however, that a response would be relayed to the public at the appropriate time.
At a press conference at Congress Place Sophia yesterday, Corbin said he has suggested to President Jagdeo that he convene an urgent meeting of the relevant stakeholders to discuss the developments, since Collymore’s move has implications for the holding of local government elections and it puts the entire reform process in jeopardy. Corbin was flanked by the other task force Co-Chair Vincent Alexander and its opposition members Basil Williams and Llewellyn John.
Corbin explained that Collymore’s memorandum, dated October 2, 2008, purported to provide a report on the work of the Joint Task Force and make recommendations. He said the memorandum has several factual inaccuracies, and “appears designed to arbitrarily abandon the work of the task force and transfer the incomplete tasks to Cabinet.”
Corbin said that the basis of Collymore’s recommendations is the claim that the task force was deadlocked on vital aspects of various bills. However, the memorandum makes no mention of a record or recollection by any opposition member that the task force was deadlocked on any issue, he said, adding that Collymore unilaterally suspended the task force meetings with effect from July 22, this year to attend to engagements connected with the PPP/C’s 29th Congress. Collymore told the other members of the task force that they would be notified in writing when the meetings would resume, but there was never any further communication.
When asked by Stabroek News about this last week Collymore had said “There is more to the mortar than the pestle. You can quote me on that.”
On August 25, 2008, task force member Basil Williams wrote Collymore expressing the PNCR’s concerns about the tardiness with which the government’s representatives on the task force were attending to its work. Collymore again did not respond.
Alexander and other opposition members of the task force were not given copies of the memorandum, and Corbin said questions arise as to the motive behind the unilateral move.
Corbin said the only piece of legislation that was discussed and generally agreed upon was the proposed legislation on the new electoral system. The PPP, however, refused to include the provisions for village/council elections in the proposed law and there was disagreement over the minister’s power to determine the timing of elections for local government organs and the task force agreed to refer those issues to the President and Leader of the Opposition. Corbin said that to date this has not been done, but added that progress on this bill was still awaiting refinement of the proposals for recall from the legal draftspersons at the Attorney General’s Chambers. The other draft bills before the task force are also still awaiting consideration.
Currently, the task force is yet to complete its discussion on three significant areas – the establishment of a local government commission, objective criteria for fiscal transfers from the centre to the local government organs and continuous education on the new local government system.
Collymore’s unilateral action, Corbin stated, causes concerns that the government is about to breach several undertakings given to the political parties, the donor community and many other stakeholders. The task force had decided that all the reforms to the local government system would be taken as a package, endorsed by all stakeholders, including, the donor community. As a result, he said Collymore’s action would threaten to destroy the justification for the postponement of Local Government Elections since 1997.