Local Government Elections

In the April 30th, 2014 edition of Stabroek News there was a Page One comment lamenting the absence of local government elections over the last 20 years and criticizing the PPP/C for withholding these.

The comment said “As can be expected from the prolonged delay, local government exists in name only. The few municipal and neighbourhood democratic councils that are functioning are doing so under a mandate that has not been renewed for 20 years. As a means of entrenching its control of local government bodies, the PPP/C government has over the last few years set about dismantling councils and replacing their members with handpicked persons without the slightest concern that there has been no democratic renewal.

“After a torturous wait, several bills to reform the local government system were passed in Parliament last year and assented to by President Ramotar. One crucial bill is still to be assented to but is not seen as an impediment to the holding of local government elections. There is no obstacle to the holding of these elections. The budget for 2014 has been passed by Parliament and the Guyana Elections Commission has signalled that it is fully prepared to discharge its mandate once the order is given. It is now for the government to issue the relevant order and it has not to date provided any credible reason as to why this has not yet been done. Its continuing denial of these elections will call into question its commitment to democracy.”

The comment ended with a commitment by Stabroek News to carry on its front page a daily reminder to the PPP/C of its obligation to convene local government elections. While it didn’t appear on each day’s front page, the almost daily reminder did attract attention from all sectors of society and fuelled discussion and debate on the topic. It was an expression of the civic duty of this newspaper and the type of effort that more and more groups and ordinary citizens have to take in order to achieve change.

Local government elections (LGE) have still not been held and since President Ramotar has announced that he is moving to call general elections there is little prospect of LGE at this time. As a result, the newspaper will suspend its reminder on the front page but will continue to call for LGE as the renewal of democracy at the local level offers the best prospect for involvement of the people in the business of the country.

It must not go unremarked that the PPP/C has had at least two years within which to name a date for LGE and failed to do so. This was a gross abdication of its duty to heed the constitutional injunctions about the primacy of local government elections. This particular failure of the Ramotar administration will be one that defines it in the future.

The failure to hold LGE also represented a sharp apostasy from the PPP’s historic championing of democracy at all levels of government. Whether that advocacy was really only for the gain of the party has gathered credence as a result of its clear unwillingness to face the electorate since 2011 whether by LGE or the AFC’s motion of no confidence. The denial of elections has eroded the party’s democratic credentials. Its heft on these matters will have little standing in the international community particularly when juxtaposed with its gratuitous allegations that the 2011 elections were rigged.

President Ramotar has given a commitment to name a date for general elections early next year. Hopefully these will be held soonest without any unnecessary complications.

All contestants in the upcoming polls should be made to give a commitment to the holding of local government elections at the earliest opportunity once a new government is formed. Manifesto promises are not enough as the public has discovered to its chagrin from President Ramotar’s party. All parties should sign a public pledge to hold LGE as soon as practicable following the general elections. Clear commitments should also be given for the assenting to of outstanding legislation on the devolution of powers from the Local Government Ministry to the local government organs and a date set for the activation of the Local Government Commission.

The shocking statistic that only two local government elections have been held between 1970 and 2014 indicts in particular the PNC and the PPP. However all stakeholders must take collective responsibility for this failing and work to reverse it.

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