Minister of Local Government Ganga Persaud says that the long-awaited four Local Government Bills will be presented to the National Assembly for their second reading on Wednesday.
“Whatever the Parliament has on the Order Paper will be achieved,” the minister told Stabroek News yesterday while adding that the bills will be presented to the House. The four bills- the Local Government Commission Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill,
the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill and the Fiscal Transfers Bill – are on the Order Paper for their second reading at Wednesday’s sitting.
Government has twice deferred the second reading of the four Bills. On the last occasion, the government shelved its parliamentary business after a failed bid to force an adjournment of the National Assembly’s sitting to win consensus with the opposition on the contentious Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP). Reservations over two of the four local government bills were also among the reasons given by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds for the intended adjournment of that sitting. The government’s motion to adjourn the sitting was defeated by the opposition but since Persaud was not in the House to present the Bills, they could not be addressed.
At the sitting prior to the last deferment, Persaud was present but remained mute when called upon to read the bills, even though Hinds hinted that the government might be willing to forego the reservations it had about two of the bills, if the administration’s Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and its motion to raise the loans guarantee ceiling—both to facilitate Amaila—were given safe passage by the opposition.
Concern has been expressed that if the Bills are not passed at this sitting which is the last before the parliamentary recess begins on August 10, local government elections last held in 1994, may not be possible this year.
The opposition had not been supportive of the motion to raise the loans guarantee ceiling and expressed fears Guyana could face unsustainable debt levels but last week, leader of the Alliance for Change Khemraj Ramjattan said his party is leaning towards supporting the two legislative instruments as clarity sought on the controversial AFHP has been provided by officials of the developer, Sithe Global and the Blackstone Group.
Since the AFC holds the balance of power in the National Assembly, support for the Bill and motion would mean the Government will see the passage of legislation critical to the Amaila due diligence process even if it fails to gain the support of APNU. Government went on the offensive when the Opposition defeated the Bill and motion nearly two weeks ago leading to the President using strong words to describe the actions of the Opposition.
Ramjattan said that while the party is still hedging its support for the overall Amaila project on what the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) says in its due diligence, it is prepared in the short term to support the Hydro Power Amendment Bill 2013 and the motion seeking to increase the loans guarantee ceiling.
However, he had said that for the motion to gain the support of the party, Government must convince the party that the level to which that ceiling is being raised is necessary for the Amaila project and that it would not be applied to any other entity, like NICIL for example. The AFC leader has said that the party wants the loan guarantees ceiling to be lower than what government has proposed and will be proposing amendments to it. He expressed the hope that the Government would yield to the amendments if they want the motion passed. Officials from Sithe last Wednesday told Opposition MPs that if the Bill and motion are not passed by August 12 and there is no national consensus, then they will pull out of the arrangement.
Meantime, on Friday, APNU said that it does not share the view that there is insufficient time remaining for the Local Government reform Bills to be enacted into law and for local government elections to be held in 2013 under reformed legislation.
“APNU wishes to again repeat that Local Government reform resulting in autonomy of local democratic organs is not a favour that citizens or the Opposition are asking for, rather it is a constitutional requirement,” the coalition said in a statement. “Failure to bring these bills to Parliament and to enact the requisite legislation would be both a denial of citizens’ constitutional rights, and tantamount to executive lawlessness,” it added pointing out that the process has been in train for over 12 years, commencing with the establishing by then President Bharrat Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition Hugh Desmond Hoyte of the Joint Task Force (for local government reform) in May 2001. “These Bills cannot and must not be held hostage, as the Government is now seeking to do, to any other condition,” APNU said while calling on government to ensure that the four Bills are put for debate at Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly.
“APNU wishes to make it clear that we do not share the sentiment which is being peddled in many quarters that there is insufficient time remaining for the Local Government reform Bills to be enacted into law and for local government elections to be held in 2013 under reformed legislation. Failure (of this happening) can only be the result of actions of the PPP Government who must face the wrath of citizens who are forced to endure steadily deteriorating conditions due to the current dysfunctional state of local authorities,” APNU said.
Last month, western missions and a host of institutions here issued a joint statement saying that the path is now clear for the approval of four key bills that would pave the way for local government elections and urging all parties and civil society to take the process to conclusion. The statement followed another earlier this year in which 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.