Stabroek News recently invited the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change to submit a weekly column on local government and related matters. The PPP has declined the offer. Only APNU has submitted a column this week.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration must stop the charade of evasive pronouncements and devious postures about local government elections. It took the Stabroek News’ editorial of April 21, 2014 – titled “It’s now time for local government elections” – to remind the PPP/C administration of its broken promises to the electorate to conduct local government elections. Indeed the PPP/C has shown itself to be impervious to the need to abide by the rules in relation to local democracy.
Norman Whittaker, PPP/C Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, is acquiring a reputation as a master of distortion and contortion. Speaking in the National Assembly on 15th March, 2012 during the debate on the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amend-ment) Bill 2012, Whittaker then Junior Minister, said: “…the PPP and the PPP/C government have always viewed … the need to have local government elections as important not only for development but also important for the renewal of grassroots democracy in our country. We want to hold local government elections. We want to hold local government elections today; tonight”!
The Minister went on to say in the very presentation “… that is why we have been agitating for these elections. That is why we keep bringing the legislation to the Assembly and that is why we have been continuously calling on the Opposition, haranguing them, to work with us to move the process on and we will continue to do so. We will not abdicate that responsibility that we have to the Guyanese people”!
The simple truth is that the PPP/C has steadfastly refused to hold these elections and keeps manufacturing excuse after excuse, each more spurious than the preceding. Time has exposed the Minister’s words to be platitudinous. Two years later and during the 2014 Budget debates, the same Minister said: “I do not think anyone wants local government elections more than the People’s Progressive Party. Talk about free and fair elections would be empty, unless adequate preparations, including the statutory requirements of the law, relative to these elections are met…this is not merely about elections but what happens after elections. It is about all of that”!
What the Minister omitted to say was that the “preparations” to which he alluded were in relation to new electoral arrangements. These came into being with the first piece of Reform legislation (Bill No. 21/2009) passed on 30th July, 2009, i.e. almost 5 years ago!
Whittaker’s contortions and distortions do not end there. In the very debate and in response to APNU MP Ronald Bulkan’s assertion of unjustified interference and intrusion by the government in relation to local democracy, the Minister gets down and dirty. He said: “The Hon. Member Mr Bulkan saunters into a tirade of what can only be described as reckless comments. He firstly questioned the role of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development in local democracy … The Ministry has responsibility for monitoring, providing guidance and oversight and we do this”.
Whittaker conveniently ignored the fact that subsequent to new and further reform legislation or the Local Government Commission Act 2013, this function is now the responsibility of the Local Government Commission and not that of the Minister (see APNU’s SN column of April 3, 2014). There is, however, the necessity of the MLGRD to issue the Commencement Order for the formation and operationalisation of this Commission, one which the Minister has refused to honour despite that more than 8 months have gone since passage of the Bill.
The Local Government Minister was even more brazen in proclaiming the extent to which the government is prepared to go in violating constitutional provisions relating to local democracy and the functioning of local democratic organs. The Minister said: “… very early in this year, the staff of MLGRD, at a retreat, examined the way we delivered services; examined the work of the various local government bodies across Guyana…we identified some areas of weaknesses and we determined that it was in the interest of the Guyanese populace they served, that these weaknesses be addressed” (ibid). He went on to identify the main weaknesses as being lack of accountability and need for training and concluded that “more aggressive oversight” was needed!
APNU once more calls on the PPP/C administration to stop the charade and to respect the constitution. What is needed is less interference by them and for the convening of local government elections no later than 1st August, 2014.