With another postponement of local government elections, WPA Co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine says governance at the community level is virtually non-existent.
“The situation in the communities has been for some time, somewhat desperate,” he told Stabroek News, noting the malfunctioning of the majority of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) for a considerable period. “The longer we postpone refreshing the NDCs, the more difficult the situation becomes for local communities,” he added.
Last week, when the West Bank of Demerara Village Vive la Force was swamped after flash-flooding, it was recommended that a Neighbourhood Democratic Council be set up to aid in the maintenance of the community’s drainage system. Villager for their part plan working together to find a solution to the drainage problem, while noting that over the years regional authorities have virtually ignored their well-being.
Roopnaraine had previously proposed the formal abolition of the 65 NDCs to be reconstituted as Interim Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (INDCs) to serve until the next local government elections are held. He conceptualised INDCs as organs constituted equally from governing and opposition parties with joint co-chairs. He said it remains a way to revitalise the local government system.
“Because the communities are all bereft of local government and where you do have these NDCs their performance is ludicrous,” he said.
Roopnaraine said that it is important that the other reforms which have been lagging be implemented prior to the holding of the elections. He blamed “the refusal of the PPP to give up its control over central government control of local government,” adding that until it does that the status quo would remain. He further charged that instead of revitalising NDCs, the government has been promoting Community Develop-ment Councils (CDCs), which he dubbed “inventions of Freedom House, which have nothing to do with our constitution or our laws.” He said the CDCs are taking over the role of NDCs and in some instances undermining them. “I would like somebody to point me to the laws of Guyana where they [CDCs] are legitimised,” he said.
Although there is still no official confirmation, local government poll preparations have been halted and the parliamentary select committee tasked with completing long-in-the-works legislative reforms for implementation has still not been reactivated after it reached a standoff late last year.
The committee’s mandate was an extension of the work started by the Local Govern-ment Task Force.
However, Roopnaraine is also critical of the compromises made by the Task Force and he cited the new electoral system as an example.
The new system is a hybrid that is equal parts Proportional Representation and First Past the Post, which he said is a departure from the recommendations of the Constitu-tion Reform Commission. “Our idea there was that we would really have virtually a completely different electoral system.
We would have first past the post, with people being able to contest in their individual capacity and organisations and so on and what we have is something that is less than that,” he noted, saying the new system is a “complete distortion” of the intent of the reforms.
He said too another deviation is the Local Government Commission, whose six members would be selected by the government under the law.
“The whole idea of the Local Government Commis-sion was to remove all the power from the hands of the central government minister,” he said, calling the process for its appointment a “cynical attempt” to retain control over the local government system. “Nobody wants to replace the Local Govern-ment Minister with a Local Government Commission that is essentially, in terms of its political weight, the same,” he said.