With the passage of the recent local government reform bills, there seems to be more interest in local government elections. As I move around the country I sense a heightened interest in local democracy which should be nurtured.
Local government is the heartbeat of the democratic process. It is the level of government that is closest to the people. It is at that level that ordinary citizens get a chance to engage most effectively in self-governance. The councillors live in the community. This makes them more accessible and accountable to the people.
The current system has reduced local democracy to a sham. It alienates people from participation. The central government, through the Minister of Local Government, is very disrespectful to the local government organs that it does not control and reduces those controlled by its supporters to rubber stamps of the PPP. Town, regional and neighborhood councils are starved of funds and resources by the central government. In effect what we have is government tyranny in the guise of local government.
It is for this reason that I believe that the impending local government elections, if held under the reformed system, could ignite the beginning of a new politics in which people take control of their own governance and in the process benefit from the fruits of democracy. I also believe an active and effective local government is a form of power sharing, what is referred to these days as vertical power sharing, whereby the central government and the local organs share the burden of governance.
In this regard the local governments could also serve as a check on the central government.
It is for this reason that I believe the political parties should either stay out of the local government entirely or at a minimum reduce their participation. If political parties feel they must participate I think they should only contest 40 per cent of the seats.
I favour the return to the village council system where it is necessary. This would ensure that historic villages regain control of village resources such as land, which is a burning issue in the villages. It would also help to restore a sense of community. It would bring more people into governance, thus broadening the base of participation. We would now have village councils, neighborhood councils and regional councils. It would take government even closer to the people.
Finally I would recommend that the 30 per cent rule, whereby parties are required to have women make up a minimum of 30 per cent of their slates, be applied to all local government councils. Gender power-sharing holds the prospect of bringing fresh ideas to the table that could well turn out to be a deviation from the acrimony that now characterizes governance.