The long-awaited Local Government Commission is expected to be put in place in March next year, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan says.
“The commission is expected to become operational sometime in March,” Bulkan told Stabroek News last week. He said that provision for the funding of the Commission will be included in the 2016 budget and once the 2016 Appropriation Act is approved, it will allow for the establishment and functioning of the Commission.
Given government’s intention to lay the 2016 Budget in the National Assembly in January, Bulkan said that the Budget is likely to be approved in February and in March, the Commission should be set up.
According to Bulkan, all the details and logistics for the Commission are currently being addressed by the ministry. He noted that among other things, the commission will have responsibility for regulation and staffing of local government organs so it means that a number of officers who are currently part of the ministry who have responsibility for staffing issues and day-to-day oversight will be transferred to the commission.
The commission will be made up of eight members, four nominated by government, one from unions operating in the local government sector and three from the leader of the opposition.
Government already has a shortlist of “competent and qualified candidates,” Bulkan said.
Stabroek News reported recently that over two years after laws were passed providing for the establishment of a Local Government Commission, such a body is yet to be established despite strident calls by APNU and the AFC when in opposition, for it to be set up.
The Commission is provided for in Guyana’s Constitution. Article 78 (a) reads: “Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission, the composition and rules of which empower the commission to deal with as it deems fit, all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs.”
The Bill to enable the establishing of the Commission was passed in the National Assembly in August 2013 and in November that year received Presidential assent. However, a Commencement Order to be issued by the minister is required for it to be brought into effect.
Earlier this year, Bulkan had told Stabroek News that the APNU+AFC government would support non-political management of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs). He said, in principle, he would be happy if non-political persons come forward for the management of the communities. The minister had stressed that he is not saying that the coalition will not be contesting the local government polls and they are also prepared, if no strong candidate is put forward, to field a candidate from the coalition in a district.
Under the new system for local government polls, 50% or half of the number of councillors of each Local Authority Area will be elected through the Proportional Representation component and the other 50% through the First-Past-the-Post or Constituency component.
Bulkan spoke about the flourishing of grassroots democracy and when asked about his earlier comments about non-political persons managing their communities, Bulkan said that the elections and the arrangements allow for individual candidacy and that concept is not anathema to the administration.
“We see significant value in allowing for depoliticized management and administration of our communities but we obviously can’t seek to deter or to discourage political parties or voluntary organisations from contesting these elections because there are many important stakeholders and partners in the process of effective management of communities,” he said.
Asked whether APNU and AFC will be contesting together in all of the NDCs and municipalities, he responded that if not all, then the majority.
Bulkan said there are 71 areas or councils that are being contested meaning essentially that there would be 651 separate elections taking place.
He said that government is doing nothing to discourage individual participation but parties cannot abdicate their responsibility to ensure that competent persons make up the councils because the councils will be allowed to operate with authority and autonomy so it is essential that persons of competence seek to effectively and efficiently manage community affairs.