For Georgetown councillors the call by political activist Mark Benschop to have all municipal councils dissolved now that a date has been set for local government elections “is a non-issue.”
Councillor Ranwell Jordan, a former mayor, said, “Dissolution will come anyway with the March 16, 2016 elections. It is overdue and looked forward to by the present councillors.”
In a letter to the press last week Benschop said that dissolving the councils will eliminate the perception that there might be “unfair and illegal campaigning by incumbent city officials, who will no doubt be using taxpayers’ money to have them re-elected, or to have their friends selected.”
Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday, Councillor Junior Garrett questioned Benschop’s reasoning.
“What resources do we have?” he asked while explaining that the councillors don’t have any vehicles or direct access to council finances.
Councillor Gregory Fraser offered more explanation. “There is no law that says council must be dissolved,” he said.
“For 23 years the council was stymied. We couldn’t use our resources to help people and get work done. We can’t sit back now whether we want to run again or not. We have to go into the field to get work done.”
He extended an invitation to Benschop saying that if the activist wanted to he could come into the field, “None of us would stop him but councillors must continue to work with citizens.
We can’t just dissolve the council, there is a process which we will go through come March 16.”
Benschop was not impressed. Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday he said, “You can’t have the council awarding contracts and councillors posing for photographs and saying to communities look at what we are doing for you.”
Such actions he feels puts independent competitors who wish to campaign at a disadvantage. “These councillors who have been sleeping for 23 years are suddenly awakened and now they are going into communities,” he said, adding that claims of being previously stymied by central government are not enough.
“You don’t have to have billions of dollars to go into communities and encourage people. They slept. They didn’t do much to fight central government. I didn’t see any of them on the picket lines. When Le Repentir Cemetery became a dumpsite they didn’t protest. When I blocked it the first time and when Freddie Kissoon and I were arrested they were not there with us. All these sleeping councillors are now waking up and it’s too late,” he declared.
He pointed to the work he has been able to do in communities with his Benschop Foundation and called for the council to stop awarding contracts at this time. Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green who has indicated her desire to run for a seat on the council with the hope of being elected Mayor of the new council is adamant that “no city councillor can utilise the resources of the council for any campaign. The councillors do not have access to the resources of the council. We would not be able to access money out of the treasurer’s department for campaigning.” She added that no one councillor can claim credit for the work being done since they are the result of community proposals and entire council approval.
“There is no one-man show, all decisions are decisions of council,” Chase-Green stressed.
On the matter of the minister’s legal right to dissolve the council Chase-Green contended that the law is silent on the matter.
Benchop had citied (Chapter 28:01 306, section 5) which states that “Where the Minister dissolves a council under this section, he shall, when he deems fit, by order appoint – (a) A day for the election of the councillors and prescribe the term of office of the councillors so elected.”
Chase-Green however clarified that a dissolution can only come, “If the minister had reason to doubt the council over the years and calls an inquiry. The law does not provide for it otherwise.”
Chapter 28:01 306 (1) actually states in part that the minister may dissolve a council if he is satisfied upon inquiry that a council has exceeded or abused its powers, failed to achieve or maintain a level of efficiency or has been excessive in its expenditure. There is no reference to the process of elections being a justification for dissolution.