Gov’t likely to go to local gov’t polls without full reforms

-President’s explanation for non-assent to bill sent to House

Government may seek to go ahead with local government elections without the outstanding reforms to reduce ministerial control over local authorities.

President Donald Ramotar recently assented to three of the suite of four local government reform bills passed by the National Assembly and later revealed that he did not assent to the Local Government (Amendment) Bill because he found it to be unconstitutional.

Asked whether government is content to proceed to the polls without the remaining reforms, Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud told Stabroek News on Wednesday that government is going ahead with the current legislation.

The three local government Bills which have been assented to will bring about some reform to the local government framework, but Persaud said that all that was really needed is the Local Government Elections (Amendment) Bill of 2009.  While the president has publicly signalled his reason for withholding assent from the bill, he was still, however, required to send an official notice to the House Speaker justifying his decision.

House Speaker Raphael Trotman on Wednesday said that the president has since sent the notice, although he was not in a position to say exactly what the president’s reasons were. He said that the information must first be made available to the Members of Parliament before it is shared with the media.

Main opposition APNU, through leader David Granger has expressed optimism that Ramotar will sign the bill before elections are held. But even as Granger exercises optimism, APNU Shadow Local Government Minister Ronald Bulkan has said that the Partnership’s next move on the matter of the final bill will be determined by the president’s explanation which the National Assembly has received and is yet to circulate.

The AFC, on the other hand, says leader Khemraj Ramjattan, will go to the polls with just the three Bills. When contacted on Wednesday he said that the party realises that the President is reluctant to sign the fourth bill and said that three out of the four bills is better than none. As a result, he said, the AFC will proceed with just the three bills if it comes to that. He said, however, that the party’s decision does not mean it accepts Ramotar’s reasons.

The president’s reluctance to assent to the bill, Ramjattan explained, turns on the fact that the bill will facilitate the transfer of power which now resides with the Local Government Minister to the Local Government Commission when it is set up. The government, Ramjattan argued, wants to ensure that the Local Government Minister retains his powers over local government organs related to staffing, resolving disputes and regulating the organs, although this goes against Guyana’s laws.

Article 78 (a) of Guyana’s constitution reads: “Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission, the composition and rules of which empower the commission to deal with as it deems fit, all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs.”

This article, Ramjattan said, renders the President’s rationale for not giving his assent to the final bill invalid. The AFC nevertheless will contest local government elections without the bill if it comes to that.

Preparations for elections are forging ahead, Persaud said Wednesday, while adding that training for Essequibo Regional Democratic Council and Neighbourhood Democratic Council officials will be carried out shortly as part of a countrywide training initiative.

Before elections, however, Persaud must give the order to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for it to start the process. When asked when he intends to do this, the minister said that he is currently being advised by stakeholders on a suitable time.

In previous statements,  Minister in the Ministry of Local Government Norman Whittaker said that elections may be held in the second or third quarter of 2014.

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