With no movement towards the enactment of the local government reform legislation, the AFC is now accusing President Donald Ramotar of demonstrating a lack of respect for the constitution and the people’s right to elect their local government authorities.
The charge was made during a press briefing yesterday by party General Secretary David Patterson, who added that the president’s refusal to assent to the four recently passed local government bills is even more disrespectful when one considers that he, along with several other members of the governing PPP/C, have listed local government elections as priority.
Although the bills have not yet been sent to the president, Attorney-General Anil Nandlall recently said that he was awaiting instructions from the Office of the President (OP) on whether to issue assent certificates for them.
In 2011, Patterson recalled, Ramotar, then just the PPP/C’s presidential candidate, said that if his party won the elections it would ensure that local government elections was held the following year.
Ramotar, Patterson also said, noted that the country was in desperate need of such elections, especially since many of the challenges that faced and continue to face local governing organs stemmed from the lack of local government elections over a prolonged period of time.
Local government elections were last held in 1994, two years after the PPP/C won power from the PNCR. According to Guyana’s laws, local government elections should have been held again in 1997, and every three years since then.
Both the government and the opposition had long held that the reforms to the local government system, to be enabled by the recently passed Local Government Commission Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, the Fiscal Transfers Bill and the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill, were a prerequisite for the holding of the elections. However, recent statements by both the AFC and the government suggest that this is no longer a firm position.
Taking a line similar to AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan, Patterson yesterday said that the bills have done nothing but delay the holding of local government elections.
He added that the polls can be held without the president giving assent to the four bills since the Local Government Elections Bill is already in place. Junior Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker expressed similar sentiments during a recent press conference.
Since their passage on August 7, the four local government bills were prepared by the Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs before being sent off to the Ministry of Legal Affairs’ Chief Parliamentary Counsel Cecil Dhurjon to be vetted. They remain there to this day.
The Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), Patterson charged, is also part of the problem since it has never demanded that local government elections be held. Act 10 of the 1990, he said, makes Gecom independent from government and empowers it to host elections, but it has not even started preparations to hold elections. Gecom, however, has indicated that it cannot begin preparations for elections until it receives the directive from the Minister of Local Government.