Within recent times, the unwelcome development of slashing councillors’ allowances has taken an unenviable prominent place in our local media. It is in fact a substantial issue both in terms of content and form, because it limits the ability of councillors to carry out their work in their constituencies and other local communities. Judging from media reports and other comments made in the public sphere on this issue, we find it necessary to explain to citizens what has actually occurred.
As usual, that responsibility falls to the public relations division of the council. We must hasten to say that, this letter is particularly concerned with established principles, protocols and procedures followed by successive councils for years. It has nothing to do with an individual and everything to do with the management and administration of the municipality and its capacity to engage citizens, to allow them to participate in municipal affairs, and to provide core services to local communities. In that context, we will consider two aspects of what has become a very worrying and contentious situation: the legal basis for such allowances and the effects of the cuts on the work of the council.
It is clear that granting allowances to councillors is provided for in the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01. According to the law, at section 22 (1): “The City Council may in each year, with the approval of the Minister, appropriate out of the funds of the Council a sum to be utilized for the remuneration of councillors other than travelling and subsistence expenses incurred in the course of duty, and may, with such approval, determine what sum shall be payable to each councillor.”
Also, section 45: “A council may pay to councillors reasonable travelling and subsistence allowances at such rates as may be determined by the council with the approval of the Minister, in respect of expenses incurred by them in the course of or by reason of their performing their official duties.”
At present, all councillors receive an approved monthly allowance. This was approved by the then Minister of Local Government and Regional Development many years ago. However, a few weeks ago, councillors’ allowances were slashed for the month of May by different percentages. It was an unprecedented act. Moreover, no one knows for sure what formula was used to cut the allowances. According to reports, the cuts were based on the amount of meetings councillors attended in May 2013.
Assuming that that were the case then here is the dilemma: There are two statutory meetings per month which all councillors are expected to attend. Also, the Mayor can call extraordinary meetings at any time (Municipal and District Councils Act Chapter 28:01, Section 52). However, there is provision in the law for excuses and leave from these meetings.
Then, there are committees of council (Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01, Sections 58- 63). The business of council is managed by a network of committees. Some councillors are not on any committee. Others serve on one while quite a few of them serve on more than one committee of council. Therefore, it is obvious that some councillors will be required to attend more meetings than others. Two points here: (i) If attendance at meetings were to be used as the sole basis to grant councillors their allowances then some councillors would be grossly underpaid; and (ii) There needs to be very clear indicators to measure the utility of council meetings to make payments to councillors. Something seems to be wrong with that formula. In any case, meetings are just a small part of the obligation of councillors. They are required to work in their local communities. More, early in the life of this council, some councillors were assigned specific areas in the city to interact with citizens.
Clearly, this will affect the ability of councillors to work in different areas of the city. At stake is the opportunity, nay, the obligation of councillors to engage residents of local communities in city affairs, not only because it is their right and responsibility to do so, but also to improve the quality of decision-making in the Georgetown municipality. This cut could create a democratic deficit and affect the development of communities and consequently the progress of the city.
We are aware that some of our detractors will ask: “What work do councillors do in communities?” This is a substantial question, particularly because of all the negative reports on the goings-on at statutory meetings. But a more generous reading of our records at City Hall will underscore the important work of councillors in different sections of Georgetown.
All of this is happening at a time when the city is facing issues of near overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency, including an increasing garbage problem, and environmental and public health challenges resulting from climate change and global warming.
However, at its last statutory meeting, on June 10, that action was severely criticized by councillors. Council voted on a motion to restore the integrity of councillors’ allowances. The majority of councillors voted in favour to have the monies restored.
Public Relations Officer
Mayor and City Council