How the PPP/C strangles local autonomy

A Partnership for National Unity column

Stabroek News has invited the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change   to submit a weekly column on local government and related matters. Only APNU has submitted one this week.

The lessons of the coming of Internal Self-Government (1961), Independence (1966), Republicanism (1970), New Constitution (1980) and advent of the 21st century seem to have been lost on the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). When the opportunity was presented for us to enter into the 21st century, the PPP/C chose for us to be shackled to a status-quo that obtained when we were a colony, tied to Britain then at the height of her imperial power and reach.

Bill No 12 of 2012, Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 sought to amend the Local Government Act (Cap. 28:02) and is so intituled. It is actually not a discretionary piece of legislation but rather mandatory and consequent to new constitutional articles of 2001. Specifically,20140306apnu logo article 75 originally stated that: Parliament may provide for local democratic organs to take decisions which are binding upon their agencies and institutions, and upon the communities and citizens of their areas. Its marginal note was: “Power to take decisions”.

Following the 2001 revision, it now read: Parliament shall provide that local democratic organs shall be autonomous and take decisions which are binding upon their agencies and institutions, and upon the communities and citizens of their areas.

The distinction is clear and unambiguous, i.e. Parliament (NB –not the National Assembly) “shall provide that local democratic organs shall be autonomous …, etc”. For avoidance of doubt “autonomy” means having the freedom to govern itself (a country or region) or control its own affairs, and having the freedom to act independently.

What is the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration`s interpretation of the above mandate? It is contained in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill as follows:

The main thrust of this Bill is to include the neighbourhood democratic council in the local government system for all purposes;

The Bill makes some consequential amendments and increases penalties in a number of areas;

The Bill gives the Minister of Legal Affairs the power to prescribe by order fees payable for any process, including the process of parate execution.

That’s it.

It is necessary to remind the public that the legislation (i.e. Cap. 28:02) came into being almost seven decades ago (or in 1945). Even though there were minor revisions up to 1972, these in any event predated the 1980 Constitution.

The legislation governing local government, therefore, was a colonial inheritance and a relic of a bygone era. It is certainly out of place, offensive even, in a modern democratic society. It places excessive and ‘imperial’ powers in the hands of one official, i.e. a Minister. It is inconsistent with the Constitution.

 

The intent of the new constitutional provisions and the subsequent work of the Joint Task Force commissioned by former president Bharrat Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition the late Desmond Hoyte which submitted its report in 2003, was clear.

It was that in relation to local government and local democracy, what was needed was for an overhaul of the system.

One example of the anomaly and inconsistency of the extant legislation with the constitution is at section 13 (Cap. 28:02) which states: “The Minister shall have and may exercise in any village or country district any or all of the powers of a local authority whenever it appears to the Minister expedient so to do …”.

Did the Bill seek to remedy or remove this article? No. The proposal was to leave it as it is. The Minister must retain this power. If he or the government so chooses, the residents of Rose Hall, Bartica, Port Kaituma, Lethem, Kwakwani, Enmore or Corriverton can be deprived of having their elected representatives manage their community affairs.

As if this is not enough violence to the Constitution as well as local democracy, the Bill actually sought to increase central government’s powers! Amendments proposed to sec. 2 called for the insertion of the “Regional Executive Officer of a Regional Democratic Council”! RDCs are governed under Cap. 28:09 and the “clerks” of NDCs are its overseers. It is, of course, well known that REOs now function as creatures of the Minister.

In our next article we shall conclude our examination of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee`s deliberation on this Bill and of the subsequent non-assent by the President.

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