Bill tabled on postponed local gov’t polls

The government yesterday moved to formalize a postponement of local government elections which were due to be held last year.

The Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2013 says that local government elections will now be held on or before December 31, 2013. The move comes a day after the four key western missions in Guyana called for the holding of local government elections, saying that there is no valid justification for further delay, which they said is responsible for a persistent drag on Guyana’s national development.

Local government elections have been due since 1997. Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Ganga Persaud tabled the bill.  One of the clauses amends the Principal Act, substituting the words “fifteen years” with “sixteen years”.
The amendment “shall apply only to the next local government elections to elect members of the local democratic organs now to be held on or before 1st December 2013 in consequence of this amendment”, the clause says. The Act shall be deemed to come into operation on 1st November, 2012.

According to the third clause, notwithstanding anything in section 2 or in any other provision of the Principal Act, the Minister may on request of a local democratic organ or on his instructions authorize the holding of the election at any time for the election of a Mayor, Deputy Mayor or a Chairman or Deputy Chairman of a local democratic organ.

On Wednesday, the four western missions reiterated their call for 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,” said the statement which was signed by US ambassador D. Brent Hardt, European Union ambassador Robert Kopecky, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom Andrew Ayre, and High Commissioner of Canada David Devine.

The government has blamed a number of factors for the non-holding of local government elections but critics have argued that it has been in charge of the process and it was always within its ability to hold the elections. They point to a particularly frustrating period under former Local Government Minister Clinton Collymore where the reform process was stalemated and eventually abandoned.

The government and opposition parties had previously agreed to hold local government elections, which have been due since 1997, only upon completion of reforms. The bi-partisan Task Force on Local Government Reform, made up of representatives of the PPP/C and the then main opposition PNCR, had worked for eight years on completing the reform legislation. However, in 2009 the government abandoned the process in favour of the parliamentary review.

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