President Donald Ramotar says the decision to withhold assent from the local government bill intended to strip ministerial control over local authorities was taken because he felt the change was unconstitutional.
Ramotar yesterday also accused the opposition of breaking an agreement with the government on not changing the law,
a day after the main opposition coalition APNU accused the government of attempting to retain “archaic colonial powers” now vested in the Minister of Local Government.
Ramotar this week signed into law the Fiscal Transfers Act, the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Act and the Local Government Commission Act, which were all passed unanimously by the National Assembly at its August 7th sitting.
Also passed unanimously despite government’s reservations was the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to wrest ministerial control over local authorities and to vest them in the Local Government Commission. The bill, however, did not receive presidential assent, and no full reason was given by the head of state until yesterday.
At a press conference at the Office of the President, Ramotar said that during the Ninth Parliament, the ruling PPP/C—which then commanded a majority—and the then main opposition PNCR had aligned with an agreement and an understanding that the legislation in its current form was how it should remain.
“This parliament, they have decided to change it. But not only have they changed it, which is in my view unprincipled, but they have made it also unconstitutional to try and take the authority of the minister out and vest it into a commission and that the constitution is against that…that is why I didn’t assent to it,” he explained.
“We thought we had a deal,” Ramotar said, but he did not go into further details about what that meant in relation to the amendment bill.
APNU has stated that changes made to the bill would infuse local government organs with more autonomy than they enjoy today, including transferring powers which currently lie with the Local Government Minister to the Local Government Commission once it is established. By refusing the assent to the bill, APNU argues, Ramotar has demonstrated his intent to keep as much power as possible in the hands of central government.
Meanwhile, despite the assent to three of the four bills, further action needs to be taken to bring their provisions into force, according to APNU MP Basil Williams.
Williams, who chaired the committee which looked at the bills before bringing them back to the National Assembly, said the Fiscal Transfers Act and the Municipal and District Councils (Amend-ment) Act will not be enforceable until they are posted in Guyana’s Official Gazette.
Further, as is mandated by the law itself, he says that the Local Government Commission Act will only take effect when Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud issues an order calling for it to be brought into effect. Until these things are done, Williams emphasised, the assent given by Ramotar means very little.
When contacted on Thursday, Persaud indicated his intention to give the order that will bring the law into force. He could not say, however, when he intended to do so.
Williams opined that there is nothing preventing Persaud from immediately giving the order. He also posited that the government should have no problem posting the bills in the Gazette by the end of the week, or this weekend the latest.
Referring to the Appropriations Bill that was passed, assented to, and implemented earlier this year, Williams said that it went through the necessary processes in a matter of days although it was more complex than the local government bills. As a result, Williams called for Ramotar and Persaud to move ahead on the legislation since it has already taken several months to get this far. Until they take these actions, he said, “We will continue to be on game street.”