The Guyanese people, after twenty years of disenfranchisement, are understandably fed-up with the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) regime’s excuses for not holding local government elections. To add to the injustice, the ruling regime persists in its quest to install Interim Management Committees (IMC) and hand-picked officers. Meanwhile, the regime continues to try to convince Guyanese that an IMC is actually superior to an elected council.
Ganga Persaud, the former Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, is on record as praising IMCs and denouncing the performance of elected local government leaders. Norman Whittaker, the current Minister, has called for the installation of an IMC in Georgetown. The fact is that, apart from the anti-democratic nature of these activities, the PPP/C’s efforts to subsume local government, if successful, would defeat the purpose of local democracy.
Local government was not intended to be an extension of central government. Rather, it is the means by which citizens can exercise control, from the grassroots; it is the foundation of democracy and has its own part to play in the lives of citizens. Article 12 of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic Guyana makes clear that local representatives must be freely elected.
Dr Jeffrey Sellers, professor of political science at the University of Southern California wrote: “The tendency to regard local government as only a subset of decentralization runs counter to other considerations that suggest a distinctive role for local government in political participation and policymaking.”, Dr Sellers posits, in other words, local government has a role, separate and apart from that of central government. This view is reinforced by internationally accepted and approved resolutions.
The nations of the Commonwealth, including Guyana, approved the Aberdeen Agenda on March 18, 2005, This Agenda was intended to promote local democracy and good governance. The document states: “Effective, elected local government is an important foundation for democracy.”
It goes on to recognise local government as a separate sphere of government with unique responsibilities. These include: community empowerment, poverty-reduction and post-disaster reconstruction. The document highlights the fact that only local authorities can determine the needs of a community as they relate to health care, sanitation, waste management, water and education, among others.
The Aberdeen Agenda also emphasised the fundamental link between freedom, national development and local democracy. The document also highlighted the need for central governments to respect elected local authorities. Clearly, Commonwealth nations have demonstrated, by approving the Agenda, that they acknowledge the distinct, necessary role of local representatives. It is therefore hypocritical for the PPP/C regime to turn its back on these ideals. The structure and nature of local government also emphasises its unique role in a democracy.
Political scientists agree that, unlike officials in central government, those at the local level are more accessible to the people they represent. The small scale of representation at the local level allows for face to face interaction among the representatives, and between the representatives and their constituents. This arrangement translates to greater participation by citizens in th `e decision-making process, increased involvement of the electorate in community affairs and more frequent opportunities to share ideas. It must be acknowledged that this arrangement bodes well for the well-being and development of neighbourhoods and communities.
It is self-evident that a local representative should speak for his community. He should be beholden to the people who elected him; he must not owe allegiance to central government. A political appointee therefore, cannot be expected to function in this role.
In Guyana’s context therefore, a person appointed by a minister of government to function in a local government body, is intrinsically undesirable. Moreover, an entire Interim Management Committee appointed by the ruling regime, would be unlikely to put the interests of the people before that of the regime. It is clear: appointment of local representatives by officials of the PPP/C controlled central government, is not in the interest of the masses.
It is evident that local government is intended to achieve goals which are local in nature and may be far removed from the attention of central government. A minister residing in Pradoville and working in an air conditioned office, cannot relate to the needs of the single parent, living in a hinterland village.
Local representatives are expected to promote the interests and goals of the community; they must represent the people, not the ruling regime. A member of an IMC is beholden to the regime instead of the constituents. This arrangement would not be in the interest of the masses; local government must not be an extension of centralised authority.
Sociology researcher Manfred Davidmann, in his book, ‘Democracy Under Attack, states: “Governments do not have the right to take away the participative rights of the electors.” In Guyana though, this is exactly what the ruling PPP/C regime has done; the right of Guyanese to elect our local government representatives has been trampled upon.
The people of Guyana must insist on the restoration of democratic processes, including the holding of local government elections. Guyanese have endured this regime’s contempt for democratic norms, for far too long.