Stabroek News has invited the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change to submit a weekly column on local government and related matters. The PPP/C has declined the offer.
Public clamour for the holding of local government elections – due since 1997 – has been insistent over the years. A Partnership for National Unity has been making regular calls beginning in early 2012. Political party leaders, civil society and members of the diplomatic community in 2013 voiced their hope that these long overdue elections would finally be held.
A joint statement was issued by civil society organizations and western missions on March 5th, 2014. They all urged that local government elections be held by the present Parliamentary deadline of August 1st, 2014.
The signatories to this statement were the Berbice Chamber of Commerce, the British High Commission, the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry, the Embassy of the United States of America, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, the Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association, the Guyana Trades Union Congress, the High Commission of Canada, the Justice Institute, the Private Sector Commission and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.
The latest to join the chorus calling on the government to discharge its responsibility to hold these elections is an organization called Blue CAPS comprising young Guyanese. In a letter published in SN of May 4, 2014 the fourteen signatories state that it boggles their minds that those responsible “have allowed this travesty to go on unresolved.” They highlighted the many adverse effects that flow from it. Going beyond the more mundane aspects of local government, they make the point that “if young people become disconnected (from political and civic participation), the consequences for the nation could prove costly”.
The Blue CAPS argue equally that “if young people know opportunities to connect to their communities do not exist, the local environment could become a feeding ground for negative behaviour that lead to delinquency and a lack of motivation to continue their education”. On the other hand, they argue if young people are engaged and allowed to participate, they will “develop a clearer sense of identity, self worth, etc”.
This is consistent with a philosophy grounded in the democratic paradigm that citizens should be afforded the opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. It is regrettable to recognize that the PPP/C does not subscribe to this philosophy.
The PPP/C, even as the chorus rises to a crescendo, appears to be tone-deaf. People across the country are forced to endure progressively deteriorating conditions in their communities. These conditions add to daily frustrations but also prevent them from participating in addressing its solution.
The PPP/C must know that, eventually, it will feel the wrath of citizens. Everyone is aware that it is the PPP/C’s desire to control and rule with an iron fist that stands in the way of citizens and their constitutional right to elect councillors to manage community affairs.
The Stabroek News newspaper, following its consistent focus on local government elections issues, announced in a ‘Page One Comment’ on April 30th , 2014 that it will carry on its front page a daily reference to local government elections as a way of reminding the PPP/C administration of its obligations. Therein the observation was made that while not a panacea, the holding of local government elections will offer an opportunity for addressing chronic problems that bedevil people on a daily basis. These problems are of course well known to all. The PPP/C seems to be unconcerned and oblivious to the situation.
The Peoples Progressive Party Civic administration (PPP/C) professes to practise democracy. The reality is quite the opposite. Their actions reveal them to be more despotic than democratic. They espouse a commitment to democracy but subvert the constitution. Nowhere is this more evident than in the constitutional provisions relating to local democracy.
Art. 12 of the constitution states the following: Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organization of the State. Articles 71-78 B spells out in greater detail, the role and functions of local democratic organs. The PPP/C’s response to these constitutional provisions is that they do not apply to them! Apart from being undesirable and unhealthy, this attitude is untenable.
Guyana is a large country. It cannot be effectively or efficiently managed only from the centre. Our constitution recognizes this, perhaps out of painful experience. It provides for clearly defined decentralization of authority and devolution of power as a consequence. This is consistent with modern-day best practice which accepts that local government is primarily a vehicle through which localities are able to manage local affairs in accordance with the choices and priorities of their citizens.
It is only the obtuseness of the PPP/C that stands in the way of citizens and their desire and constitutional right to improve the conditions in their communities.