Main opposition APNU believes that President Donald Ramotar will assent to the four local government bills passed in the National Assembly on Wednesday.
“I am very confident [that the president will assent to the Bills],” said APNU Basil Williams, speaking at a press conference yesterday at the Brickdam office of the Leader of the Opposition. “Even if the president didn’t want to, under the circumstances I believe that he could hardly avoid assenting to the bills,” he said.
The local government bills passed on Wednesday are the Local Government Commis-sion Bill, the Local Govern-ment (Amendment) Bill, the Municipal and District Coun-cils (Amendment) Bill and the Fiscal Transfers Bill. They are intended to allow for the holding of local government elections, which were last held in 1994.
”There was even compromise in the Parliament because they had proposed four amendments and of the four they got two and we refused two others. The two we refused would have been an attempt to transplant the Regional Executive Officer (REO) which operates in the RDC into the NDC,” Williams said, while explaining that since the CEO for the NDC is the overseer, the REO transfer would have been problematic.
“The second one [that we refused] was sections 13 and 14 [of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill], which just couldn’t be compatible with local government reform and empowering people. They were making provision for the Minister to take over local democratic organs when he feels that he should do so. He would also take over their functions and responsibilities,” he said.
“In other words, we have a new system, we have elections and if the government doesn’t like something that is happening in an NDC, the Minister then jumps in out of the blue and say y’all stand down, we’ll take over now,” he said. “So we couldn’t agree to that. It would have been diametrically opposed to what the framers of the constitution had intended, which was the autonomy of local democratic councils,” he argued.
Williams said government recognised that once they put in an independent Local Government Commission, it would engender a new situation and a change that would certainly result in the people having true independence.
“Government did not want to risk this new animal of a Local Government Commission moving powers from the Minister. It is clear that they recognised that it would be transformative,” he said.
“When we took over with the majority we brought it to this stage. When they realised that they couldn’t stop it they proposed an eight member commission,” he said. “That could lead to gridlock but we don’t know because we have a trade union nominee on the Commission,” he said.
“… We would expect professional people when they get there they would act in the interest of the local government system,” he said. “Perhaps there could be a rotating Chairperson,” Williams suggested.
Also speaking at the press conference, APNU MP Winston Felix said that in the situation where the Commission has eight members giving rise to the possibility of gridlock, it now behoves all parties involved to search for decisions based on compromise and consensus. “For too long we depended on the support of numbers to outweigh the other side. I think though we would have preferred a different formulation of the Local Government Commission, we still feel that we ought to expect the deliberations and search for resolutions through compromise and consensus,” said Felix.
The figure of eight for the Commission was agreed after the Alliance for Change sided with the PPP/C during Wednesday’s debate. APNU voted against this amendment to the bill.
The Select Committee had opted for the figure of seven: three to be appointed by the president, three by the president after conferring with the leader of the opposition and one nominated from the trade unions in the area of local government by the parliamentary select committee on appointments. Following Wednesday’s amendment, the configuration would be four selected by the president while the remainder would be selected by the president after conferring with the leader of the opposition.
Williams said that once the bills are assented to then the process of selecting the members of the Commission would commence. “It is the culmination of the Leader of the Opposition working with the President and the Parliament. The Appointive Committee of Parliament will have to select [the trade union representative],” said Williams. He added that elections could be held once local government reform bills become law. “Once the president assents, that is it. Elections could be held,” he said.