A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) in its 2011 Manifesto under its ‘Governance’ section outlining its commitment to “ending ‘winner-take-all politics’” says it will pursue “At Local Government level, reintroducing village councils, retaining Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and introducing constituency elections at the RDC and NDC and village levels with a provision for individuals to contest those elections and for lower tiers to be represented at higher tiers.” A manifesto for all intents and purposes is a political declaration of policy and aims, seen as a contract with the society to govern, whether the party is in the executive, opposition and/or National Assembly.
APNU’s several public pronouncements of its intent to contest the local government elections must be of concern to us in so far as such a decision will impact on our wellbeing, suppress the inalienable right to self-determination, and moreso affect the structure of local government outlined in the Guyana Constitution.
Under the Chapter II ‘The Principles and bases of the Political, Economic and Social System’ Article 12 expressly states, “Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organisation of the State.”
This article is given deeper meaning and action in the ‘Local Democracy’ section via Article 78B which states, “The electoral system in respect of local government organs below the regional democratic councils shall provide for the involvement and representation of individuals and voluntary groups in addition to political parties and accountability to electors.”
Clearly, the framers of the constitution believed and set out to establish (i.e. giving meaning to “The Principles and bases…”) a system of government where there will be local and national involvement in decision-making and development. Arguably, if the belief is to ensure the devolution of power and decision-making to the people at the local level, it had to have been informed by the respect for personal/community responsibility and the inalienable right to self-determination.
Political independence achieved in 1966 and republican status in 1970 (removing the last pillar of colonial domination) cannot now see a form of recolonisation/centralisation of power. Local government in itself seeks to strengthen and develop the sense of grassroots/ bottom-up power, and offer potential for such to be fed into the national level. It offers opportunities at the local level, which has been proven at the NDCs, for group formation and partnership across partisan political lines and division infused from the national level. It offers and builds on the sense of neighbourliness and community to look out for each other and work together for the community good. We must therefore strive to maintain and improve these virtues.
The 1994 local government elections saw respect for and activation of the constitution by Mr Hoyte. The PPP suppressed this principle and contested solely on party lines, with this obsession seen today in its overreach to consolidate and centralise power in the hands of a few, which has resulted in the plundering of the nation’s resources, continuous violation of the rule of law and transgression of citizens’ rights.
To condemn these violations and at the same time seek to perpetuate them on the pretext that by “participating in the elections [APNU] hopes to reinstate democracy at the grassroots level to ensure that the people of the various constituencies have as much of a say as is legally permissible in decision-making where the administration of their individual constituencies is concerned” is to show contempt for the democratic processes this nation is established on, and that its people should expect adherence to.
If the APNU, as a political movement, is serious about having the involvement of the people in determining what takes place in their respective communities then they should revisit and build on the model established by the PNC under the Desmond Hoyte administration. It is a model consistent with Article 78B in the Guyana Constitution.
And in an effort to strengthen the local government structure, the parliamentary opposition majority is called upon to examine Article 76 and prepare laws to give true meaning to this arm of government.
Additionally, where the APNU can help, is by working with the people and on their behalf to realise assent to the Local Government (Amendment) Bill unanimously passed by the National Assembly. The President still owes this nation a message guided by “deliberate judgement” (Article 111) for not wanting to assent to a Bill that would realise the Local Government Commission, consistent with Article 78A. This nation must so hold him responsible for such delivery. Simul-taneously our MPs and Speaker must seek to activate/realise Article 170 (3), that the President return the Bill to the Speaker with his message as to why he withheld assent; 170 (4) secure a motion with the votes of not less than a two-thirds majority to have the Bill return to the President for assent within the stipulated six-months timeframe; and 170 (5) where the “National Assembly so resolves… the Bill shall be so presented and the President shall assent to it within ninety days of its presentation.”
Our politicians need to stop governing by guesswork, fiat or diktat and start governing consistent with the constitution buttressed by reason.
The people of this nation need clear insights into who understands their role or doesn’t; who is governing on their behalf and who isn’t; who possesses the fundamental ability to understand, interpret and activate the laws and who doesn’t. Guyana once held the Caribbean’s intellectual pride of place and this was not premised on formal certification (which many of our forebears including Cuffy, the Enmore Martyrs, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow did not possess). This was informed by respect for a proven tradition built on common sense, ability to reason, stand up and fight, and lead the way for mankind’s common good. We must seek to restore this legacy.