Stabroek News has invited the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change to submit a weekly column on local government and related matters. The PPP/C has declined the offer. Only APNU has submitted a column this week.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration has a notorious fondness for uprooting elected town and neighbourhood councils and installing interim management committees – IMCs – as a means of managing the affairs of local communities. This is not only in complete violation of the rights of local citizens but a fundamental betrayal of any principles of fairness, democracy or transparency. No other Caribbean country would even consider encouraging, much less actively participating, in such flagrant arbitrariness.
APNU, in the midst of the PPP/C’s orgy of installations of IMCs in 2012, issued a press statement drawing attention to the clear contradictions in the process. The government was claiming to uphold principles of legality and due process while acting in flagrant violation of them by insisting on its singular right to do so. APNU’s press statement noted that IMCs were not intended to ‘de-centralise’ but, rather, to ‘re-centralise’ local administration since its choices were known, hand-picked supporters, of the ruling party. Such a process, under the circumstances, could not and did not serve to empower local communities and respect local leaders but the opposite. Its crude and erratic imposition only served to undermine local confidence, encourage self-seeking entrepreneurs and trump all else with authority and domination.
The Local Government elections of 1994 in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region (No. 6) are instructive. It may very well be the case that, instead of demonstrating its capacity for governance, it may only be showing its real stripes – bearing in mind that the Region Six is usually described as the heartland of PPP support and home of founder-leader Dr Cheddi Jagan.
The figures show that Region No. 6, for purposes of the elections, consisted of thirteen NDCs and three municipalities. One NDC, Macedonia-Joppa (Central Corentyne), does not provide any figures and has been left out of consideration. The three municipalities (Corriverton, Rose Hall and New Amsterdam) consist of 42 seats while the 12 NDCs consisting of 18 seats each are home to 216 for a total of 258 seats altogether.
The PPP/C won 160, or 74 percent, of the NDC seats while taking 25, or 59 per cent of municipal seats, for an overall total of 185 of the 258 seats or 72 percent of all local government seats in Region No. 6. The opposition, on the other hand, including the PNC (as a matter of policy the latter did not contest outside the municipalities. It encouraged its supporters to join other anti-PPP segments to form opposition groups), won 55, or 25.4 percent, of the NDC seats, while the PNC won 17 municipal seats (this included one seat from another group – NACCG in New Amsterdam) or 40 percent of municipal seats for an overall total of 72 seats, and an overall total of 27.8 percent of local government seats in the region.
The overall distribution is generally thin but it also exists in some clearly-defined, concentrated pockets and, when not clear majorities, constitute significant minorities. In the lower Corentyne-East Berbice, from Rose Hall Town to Enfield-New Doe Park, for example, three NDCs and two municipalities, the opposition wins easily in one, splits evenly in a second, takes one third the votes in another, and wins 25 percent in a fourth.
Concentrated pockets of opposition support also exist in Central Corentyne, Whim to Good Hope-No. 51, seven NDCs: the opposition takes 5 of 18 seats (27.7 percent) in Bloomfield-Whim, 13 out of 18 seats (a clear majority of 72 percent) in Lancaster-Hogstye, 8 out of 18 seats (45 percent) in Adventure-Bush Lot, 5 out of 18 seats (27.7 percent) in Maida-Tarlogie. Comparable figures show up in the Good Hope-No. 51 NDC. It is only in the Upper Corentyne that opposition support falls off and, in the two NDCs and one municipality, Crabwood Creek-Nos. 52-74, amounts to little over 11 per cent.
Much has changed. In the 2011 elections the opposition parties appear to have shifted the centre of political gravity in the region. In 2006 the joint opposition’s (AFC and APNU)) share of the regional vote amounted to 14,661, five years later that share rose to 22,432 votes, an increase of 53 per cent. The PPP share of the regional vote, at the same time, shows a decline of close to 10,000 from 41,713 to 32,360 or a loss of more than 22 per cent.
Six NDCs and one municipality in Region Six were transformed into IMCs of the sort proffered by the PPP in 2012. Two others had already been so transformed in 2011, while between 2007 and 2009 another three met similar fate. One met a similar fate in 2003. In other words, twelve of the sixteen NDCs and one municipality in Region Six had become victims of the Minister’s “mindset”. Why that is so remains uncertain since none of the regions of comparable size and population suffered similar fates, including 2, 3, 4 and 5 – coastal communities with relatively large population centres and similar local government units.
There is no question that much had happened over the last twenty years and many of our NDCs and municipalities have lost their mojo. Certainly, something was needed to hold the fort until promised local government elections. Nothing, however can justify the crude and blunt instrument the minister chose to use for the occasion. Nothing, he did justifies the public trust placed in him to ensure that public responsibility was discharged without fear or favour. At no time did he even pay lip service to the rule of law when local statute clearly indicated the procedures for the suspension of an NDC/municipality and its replacement with an IMC. Nor did he even show the least decency to those who served under difficult and trying circumstances. That they deserved some respect and dignity for their services did not seem to have bothered him or his colleagues in a hurry.
The principle of political representation we have accepted and used since 1964 (PR) was nowhere to be seen in any of the Minister’s appointments of councilors of NDCs and or municipalities. The local government elections of 1994 were conducted and accepted on those terms, why should its replacement, temporary or otherwise, be different?
What is worrying here, above all else, is the principle of fairness. Can we accept that a public unit created by public law and due process be set aside by the whims of a public official without explanation? Should we not be able to ask and receive in return answers to questions about the basis on which public authority proceeds? If the 1994 local government elections indicate a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community and more recent events confirm that should public officials be allowed to ignore it simply at their peril?