It’s now time for local gov’t elections

Now that the budget has been passed the PPP/C administration can now fulfil its oft-broken promise to the electorate to convene local government elections. But is the government prepared to have these? If the budget debate contortions were anything to go by, the government is intent on defending each square inch of its authority from opposition advances. Not having faced the electorate in 20 years at local government polls, the PPP/C’s control of municipal and local government bodies will clearly be under threat once these elections are called. It won’t relish this prospect even if it means the stultifying of local government.

No room was yielded in the budget drama over the last few weeks. The government’s agreement for the judiciary to be funded by a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund simply gave expression to what should have been in the first place and exposed again the government’s proclivity to using the purse strings on watchdogs and other branches of the government. For the third year running, the opposition has crafted ambitious budget cuts which have attracted the government’s ire. However for all of its moaning and groaning and the protests it inspired this month outside of Parliament, the government is intent on ensuring that the majority of the slashed allocations are restored as was the case in the previous two years.

So, for the third year running, the opposition has created a lot of heat around the cuts to the budget but with very little light. What exactly has the first two years of cuts produced and has the opposition commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the impact of its cuts, notwithstanding the final ruling of the Chief Justice which found them to be ultra vires? Without any careful examination of the returns from the past two years, the opposition has imposed another $37.4B worth of cuts. It is not good enough for the opposition to labour under the illusion that its cuts will be honoured and lead to greater financial probity on the part of the government. This year, it has to explore the various tools and methodologies available within Parliament to gauge whether the government is completely disregarding the cuts or is at least constrained by them. This would require the deputing of its parliamentarians and others to follow the money. An excellent test case can be the Amerindian Development Fund. Both APNU and the AFC should have networks on the ground to confirm their concerns that the expenditure is intended for electioneering purposes and to determine whether those projects are continuing despite the cutoff in funds.

There is no doubt that an objective examination of the struggle in parliament since the 2011 general elections will find that the government has succeeded in out-manoeuvring the opposition. The one-seat majority opposition has very little to show for the exerting of its energies via the budget cuts and other initiatives such as the campaign against Home Affairs Minister. There is no single area that the opposition can present to the public and its constituency as emblematic of major change in the stance of the government. A golden opening has presented itself this year in the form of the need for local government elections. Can the opposition convince the government that these elections should be held soonest?

Aside from the budget, there is no single issue this year more important than local government elections. The government through several spokesmen has presented frivolous and unconvincing excuses such as the readiness of the elections commission and the need to educate the populace about the system that will be employed for the elections. One expects that once the order is issued by the minister for elections to be held that the elections commission itself will do its utmost to ensure that the public is aware of the intricacies of the new system.

That the PPP/C has not convened local government elections in 20 years is truly astounding and a blemish on the democratic credentials of the party that assumed office in 1992. The President is still to assent to the bill requiring elections no later than August 1 this year. It would appear that meeting this timeframe may now not be possible and a further amendment may have to be crafted for Parliament. This should not take the deadline past October if immediate steps are taken.

A rejuvenation of democracy at the local and community level is absolutely essential to deliver hope to the masses who have found themselves without a voice and the means to change their circumstances.What will the government and opposition do?

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