Western missions say 2013 should be watershed year for local govt polls

The United States,  the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union today issued a joint statement saying that 2013 should be a watershed year for long-delayed local government elections, adding that its absence has been a persistent drag on national development.

The statement follows

2013:  The Year for Local Government Elections

GEORGETOWN – During Guyana’s 2011 National Elections, one issue on which all political parties were in full agreement was the need to hold local government elections.  As we celebrate the arrival of the New Year, all three of Guyana’s major political parties continue to publicly affirm their commitment to holding local government elections.  Given the important and pressing need for effective local governance, we believe that 2013 should be a watershed moment for the people of Guyana — the year they can once again democratically elect their local government.

The tangible benefits of local democracy go far beyond the act of casting a vote.  Throughout the world, countries and international agencies have come to recognize the vital importance of representative local government.  Effective and efficient public administration coupled with healthy local governance can drive development efforts.  Local government institutions bring government closer to the people, fostering greater inclusion, civic responsibility, empowerment and participation.  In fact, local government offers one of the most important avenues for women and other groups typically under-represented to participate in the development of their communities and influence decision-making processes that directly affect their lives.  In communities throughout the world, a new generation of democratically-elected local leaders is creating change and sparking national development.

Unfortunately, Guyana has not held local government elections since 1994, and the institutions and practice of local governance have withered on the vine since that time.  While the people of Guyana are familiar with the reasons offered for repeated delays in holding local government elections, there is no valid justification for further delay.  The key legislative foundations for local government reform have been tabled in the National Assembly and they are now before the Select Committee.  While there may be differences between the parties over the role and authority of the Minister of Local Government and over the control and scope of fiscal transfers, these issues can — and should — be resolved as a matter of urgency among all parties in the Select Committee.

The principles that should guide the Committee and the Assembly in reviewing local government reform legislation have been amply articulated in a host of national and international assessments.  Guyana’s National Development Strategy of 2000, developed with the support of the Carter Center, called for “a local government system with greatly increased authority, with the power to formulate their own developmental plans and strategies, and with the legal right, within clearly specified boundaries, to enact local laws, and to collect specified rates and taxes, as approved by Central Government.”

Moreover, all three parties have articulated their principles and commitments to this end, around which there is clear agreement.  In its 2011 manifesto, the PPP called for reinvigorating local government and pledged to “ensure, within one year of the 2011 general elections, that local government elections are held, bringing much needed reinvigoration into local government entities.”  APNU likewise called for “the implementation of agreed Local Government Reforms and the holding of Local Government Elections.”  And the AFC affirmed that in its first year in office it would “implement local government reforms and hold local government elections.”  In a political environment in which the people of Guyana and leading civic voices such as the Chamber of Commerce have called for greater national unity and cooperation, this consensus on local government reform and elections offers all parties a vital opportunity to work together in 2013 in the national interest.

While Guyana has made great strides in strengthening its democracy, the continued absence of democratically elected and effective local government remains a persistent drag on Guyana’s national development and its attractiveness as an investment destination.  Only when people have transparent and accountable institutions at all levels of government — national, regional and local — will they have confidence in their future.

In 2013, it is time for Guyana to seize its great potential by affording its citizens strong and effective local governance to build safer, more prosperous, and more democratic communities.

D. Brent Hardt, Ambassador of the United States of America

Andrew Ayre, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom

David Devine, High Commissioner of Canada

Robert Kopecky, Ambassador of the European Union

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