The Local Government Commission is another casualty of executive lawlessness

Dear Editor,

The repeated reports in the media, with August 22, 2017 being the most recent, on the non-appointment of the Local Government Commission (LGC), once again quotes the Minister of Communities, Mr Ronald Bulkan, as saying that it will be appointed by the end of 2017. The fact that he said that it would have been appointed by the end of 2016 and budgetary provisions were made in both the 2016 and 2017 Annual Budget for the Local Government Commission seems to cause no embarrassment to the Minister nor the APNU+AFC government.

Yet the appointment of the Local Government Commission was a major set piece in the APNU+AFC coalition 2015 election campaign. Actually, as far back as 2008, the postponement of the planned local government election in that year, following the agreed on house-to-house registration process, was based on the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Ronald Corbin’s withholding support of the PNC for these elections until the passage of four local government bills, including the Local Government Commission Bill and the appointment of the Local Government Commission. Before becoming minister, Bulkan had been critical of Minister Whittaker for not moving to operationalise the Com-mission. Furthermore, one of the AFC’s key demands for its support of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism  (Amendment ) Bill 2014 was the immediate issuance of the Commencement Order for the Act to take effect and the appointment of the Commission.

However, since taking office, the APNU+AFC coalition seems to have had second thoughts.

Earlier in May 2017, Minister Bulkan is reported to have said “that neither he nor President David Granger were ready to name their nominees for the long-delayed Local Government Commission and he maintained that in its absence the local government system was functioning effectively”. Three months later there is still no movement by the government.

It might be useful to recap for the public, the many ongoing attempts by the parliamentary opposition to have this Commission appointed. The following are the facts:-

  1. i) The Local Government Commission Act was assented to on November 6, 2013 after going through a parliamentary special select committee chaired by Mr Basil Williams and an APNU and AFC majority.
  2. ii) The APNU and AFC used their majority to amend the original composition of the Commission to what exists in the statutes today ‒ eight members: three appointed by the President, one appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Local Democratic Organs, one member nominated by the unions operating in the local government sector through a consultative process by the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments and approved by Parliament, and three nominated by the Leader of the Opposition after consultation with other parliamentary parties.

iii) In April, 2016, the Committee of Appointments named Andrew Christopher Garnett, of the Guyana Local Government Officers’ Union as the nominee from the trade unions, this nominee was approved by a majority in the National Assembly in August 8, 2016.

  1. iv) On July 6th, 2016, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo identified former Georgetown Town Clerk Carol Sooba and former Local Government Ministers Norman Whittaker and Clinton Collymore as his three nominees to be appointed by the President to the Commission.
  2. v) Despite an exchange of Teixeira-Bulkan correspondence in the months of July and August 2016, Minister Bulkan continued to insist that the LGC will be operationalised once Jagdeo has stated whether he satisfied the requirements of the legislation and “consulted with all parliamentary parties.” In fact, the Act states “consultation with other parliamentary parties.”
  3. vi) On November 4th, 2016, in response to a Question without Notice to a Minister on the delay in the appointment of the members of the Local Government Commis-sion, the Minister admitted that a Commencement Order had not been issued to date and that that would be necessary to be done before the Commission could be appointed. Secondly he admitted that the government was still searching for suitable persons. He did not respond to whether efforts had been made to consult with the 71 Local Authorities with regard to their nominee.

vii) During the debate on the 2017 Budget in December 2016, the Minister was again grilled on the non-appointment of the LGC and questioned about the use of funds allocated in the 2016 Budget when there was no Commission in place.

viii) In February, 2017, Teixeira told Stabroek News that whilst her party is of the view that the intent of the Act was for the Opposition Leader to consult other parliamentary opposition parties, the PPP/C was willing in the interest of not hindering the appointment of the LGC to play along and convene a consultation with all parliamentary parties to receive their nominees for his consideration in accordance with the LGC Act.

  1. ix) The PPP/C on May 23, 2017 invited the General Secretary, Minister J Harmon of the APNU and the Chairman, Minister K Ramjattan of the AFC to a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition to discuss the nominees for the LGC during the first break of the June 15, 2017 sitting of the National Assembly.
  2. x) The Chairman of the AFC responded formally that he was “unavailable in the month of June”. He is quoted in the press as saying “I have my work with me, which I complete during the break. They can’t just set a date and expect us to turn up if we already have other plans.”
  3. xi) At the June 15, 2017 sitting, during the first break, a letter was delivered from Minister Harmon’s office advising that Mr Desmond Trotman was the named representative for the APNU to the meeting.

xii) The meeting on June 15, 2017 was held with the Leader of the Opposition and his team with Mr Trotman. The APNU representatives asserted that he was certain that APNU had nominees but that he was not in a position to name them at that meeting. As a result, it was mutually agreed that the APNU would submit its nominees for the Leader of the Opposition’s consideration no later than June 30, 2017.

xiii) On August 15, 2017, the General Secretary of the APNU was informed that having waited and not received any submissions as agreed, the Leader of the Opposition was proceeding to make his nominations. On the same day, the Minister of Communities was written to advising of the efforts made by the Leader of the Opposition to consult with other parliamentary parties and the re-submission of his original three nominees of July 2016.

xiv) As of today, the government has not

  1. a) Issued a Commencement Order to bring the Local Government Commission Act into effect; or,
  2. b) Named the three persons to be appointed by the President; or,
  3. c) Consulted with the Local Democratic Organs to arrive at a nominee.

So a year later, there has been absolutely no movement.

One may wonder why is the government behaving in such a delinquent manner with the appointment of this constitutional body? The answer becomes clearer when one recognises that the mandate of the Commission includes staffing, recruitment, promotion, dismissal and disciplining of employees in the local government system. With the government’s abysmal showing in the 2016 Local Government Elections, it wants to ensure that it makes all the appointments in the Local Authorities, with special attention to the seven Regional Democratic Councils and the forty-eight Local Authority Areas won by the PPP/C. The government wants to ensure that they have utter control in the selection and appointment over those persons employed to these elected bodies prior to the appointment of the LGC. This is the grand plan behind the delay.

Taken in isolation one may think that this is the usual incompetence we are confronted with on a daily basis by this government. However, a dangerous pattern is emerging that is undermining the constitution and the role and functions of constitutional bodies. There are now too many examples to ignore this pattern of executive interference and undermining of constitutional bodies. To quickly list these instances:

-the non-appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission after 9 months following the President‘s rejection of 12 nominees of high standing in our society;

-the halting of promotions of the members of the Guyana Police Force on the instruction of the President to the Police Service Commission;

– the removal of the Chairman and member of the Public Service Commission despite a court ruling and his subsequent replacement by the President;

-the non-appointment of 4 Judges recommended by the Judicial Service Commission for over a year and the re-arrangement of the members of this Commission to allow for a different set of judges to be appointed;

– the manipulation of the budgetary provisions of the constitutional bodies in 2016 and 2017 Budgets and supplementary financial papers in violation of the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act 2015.

The Local Government Commission is becoming another casualty of executive lawlessness.

 

Yours faithfully,

Gail Teixeira, MP

Chief Whip Parliamentary Opposition

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