The word democracy has its origin in two Greek words which together mean ‘people power’ (demos = people; kratos = power). Democracy is the most common form of government today and is promoted as the most desirable. Perhaps owing to its popularity, democracy had been defined in many ways at different places and times. It has become necessary to make a distinction between governments only formed on the basis of democracy and governments which operate as democracies.
In the first instance, the principles of democracy are applied only to the formation of a government in that an electorate is empowered to choose from among itself suitable persons to form a government. Proportional and geographic representation, gender and age balance and the right to vote are all important considerations for democratically formed governments. In the latter case, the principles of democracy are applied to the operations of government, and the electorate plays a real role in the political affairs of the nation. This is referred to as functional democracy.
Political scientists do not only agree that there are no good examples of functional democracy, but also that the concept is not utopian; several countries have realised notable levels functional democracy. One approach to realising functional democracy is democratic decentralization. This involves the devolution of real power (responsibilities and resources) from a central government to local governing bodies. Democratic decentralization is established in the laws of Guyana by the various local government Acts.
Local governments allow the electorate a significant role in the administration of the affairs of their communities – roads, drainage, community development, resource utilisation, etc. More significantly, local government systems allow for greater transparency and accountability, and reduce the risk of corruption at least as it relates to community affairs. Transparency is almost inevitable in local governments as the elected officials are necessarily part of the community and live not very far from the electorate. Elected and electorate generally meet frequently for commerce, culture and religion. The community members almost always know what is going on. They see the quality of the work of contractors and know precisely when the chairman or councillor becomes suddenly and unexplainably wealthy.
With this inherent transparency, the electorate need only to be willing and able to hold the elected accountable for actions and eliminate corruption wherever it is found. Two complementary courses of action are provided for in law. The first, and perhaps more difficult to pursue, is for a citizen or group to take legal action against the elected. This depends heavily on having a functional and independent judiciary, but also on there being sufficient hard evidence of wrongdoing. Even in places where the judiciary is functional and independent, having admissible evidence becomes the greatest hindrance to a court case. As a result, it is more common to have allegations of accountability and corruption tried in the court of public opinion, which has the power to remove from public offices those elected officials. This course of action is only dependent on the regular democratic election of officials, which is usually required by law. When such elections are not held in accordance with the law, the electorate has no power to remove corrupt officials from office.
In Guyana, the Local Authorities (Elections) Act 1990 requires that Local Authorities be elected every three years and that such elections are held by the first Monday of December in the third year. However, there has been no election for local authorities since 1994. This means that the local officials currently occupying offices to which they were elected represent the choice of the electorate two decades ago. It also means that the electorate is made to accept officials elected before a significant percentage of current electorate was even born, and before more than 50% of the current electorate was able to vote. Most importantly, it means that the electorate has been disempowered as it relates to their ability to remove corrupt officials and therefore such officials could be occupying offices for as much as seventeen years longer than they might have if an election was called.
The Government’s preferred alternative to periodic elections as required by law has been to have the Local Government Minister exercise the power given to his office to impose Interim Management Committees (IMC) where he believes that the elected body is dysfunctional. This approach substitutes autocratic and non-participatory selection in place of democratic practices. Its widespread application, and more so without the holding of election for new officials, is entirely against the principles of functional democracy. When a Minister appoints an IMC, the membership is representative only of the choice of the minister who is unlikely to be a member of the local community being governed. More importantly, with the Minister having the power to hire and fire, members of an IMC are more likely to see themselves as accountable to the Minister rather than the community. The IMC is therefore most likely to do the will of the Minister and thereby allow central government far more influence over local affairs than is provided for by law. This is a corruption of the local government system.
The Transparency Institute Guyana Inc is a politically neutral organisation and is therefore not concerned with who is elected to local offices. TIGI’s only concern is that the affairs of the people be managed in a transparent manner with high accountability and zero corruption. In order for that to be realized, however, communities must at the very least be empowered to democratically elect their representatives in accordance to the law and to thereby hold officials accountable for actions, and eliminate corruption. As long as local government election continues to be delayed in Guyana, democracy is assaulted, transparency and accountability are reduced, corruption will continue and local communities will suffer the consequences without any practical means of recourse. For this reason, TIGI strongly urges the Minister of Local Government to take necessary steps to have the election of local authorities held on or before the first Monday of December 2014, as is required by law.
Democracy delayed is democracy denied. Where democracy is denied, transparency and accountability are but figments of the imagination and corruption is king.”