Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan has described the $2.9 billion budgetary allocation to the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) for the holding of Local Government Elections as the government’s unequivocal commitment to ensuring there is democratic governance.
Speaking at a press conference at the Herdmanston Lodge yesterday, Bulkan noted that improving the local democratic organs is critical as they are responsible for delivering on behalf of the residents of communities they represent. To this end, he said his ministry will continue the public education on how local democracy works as there are still many with the mindset that it is central government’s responsibility to discharge certain services to communities when in fact it is the local democratic organs.
The holding of local government elections this year will represent, according to the ministry, the first time in the country’s post-independence history that consecutive local government elections would have been held within the legal timeframe.
The press conference focused on the ministry’s work in 2017 and its projections for 2018.
According to Bulkan, who was accompanied at the press conference by the heads of the Guyana Water Inc (GWI) and the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) Dr Richard Van West-Charles and Lelon Saul, respectively, and Mayor Patricia Chase-Green in her capacity as Chairperson of the GWI’s Board, work in 2017 towards empowering and equipping local organs was advanced.
The work was to assist the organs to promote good governance, accountability and transparency through a coordinated programme of institutional strengthening and capacity building guided by specific strategic outputs to assist the various organs to function effectively and sustainably.
And even though it took over a year after local government elections was held in 2016 for the Local Government Commission to finally be set up in accordance with Article 78 A of the constitution, the minister nevertheless listed this as one of his ministry’s achievements for last year. Also among the listed achievements were the resuscitation of the Guyana Association of Municipalities, the hosting of a number of training seminars on financial management and administration, and publication of a handbook for municipal and NDC councillors.
As it relates to the financial security and funding of councils, Bulkan stated that in 2017 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) received $248 million in subventions, of which 99% was spent, while the nine municipalities spent 87% of the $134 million allocated. And the three new capital towns of Bartica, Mabaruma and Lethem each received an additional $18 million.
Bulkan also disclosed that $251 million was spent as part of the government’s “green state” agenda and this saw the construction of green spaces/parks in a number of communities, and the installation of translucent roofing, expected to reduce energy costs, at the Rose Hall, Lethem, Anna Regina, Linden, Corriverton and New Amsterdam markets.
In the area of housing, the minister spoke about the commencement of the construction of duplexes. It was also noted that the CH&PA has strengthened its planning function with respect to settlement development and land use control management and is deepening its collaboration with the local democratic organs in the development and upgrading process. A number of public relations awareness activities were also held by CH&PA in 2017, while planning schemes for housing areas were prepared.
According to Bulkan, the authority has also embarked on the expansion of the Hinterland Housing Programme, resulting in the construction of houses in Sebia, Whitewater, Kwatamang and Massara. Roofs in communities in two hinterland regions were also replaced. Infrastructure and critical community facilities in Perseverance, Number 76 Village, Amelia’s Ward and Non Pareil were also upgraded and completed.
As it relates to the water sector, Bulkan said that GWI made significant strides towards the realisation of its vision of delivering safe, adequate and affordable water and to ensure safe sewerage systems. Some $2.3 billion was invested by the government to this end in 2017 as the GWI focused on the improvement of the water quality and increasing water production and distribution countrywide.
Last year also saw the single largest investment in the water sector with the commencement of the Water Supply and Sanitation Improvement Programme (WSSIP) to the tune of US$31,676,500. The project will see the construction of three new water treatment plants at Uitvlugt, Diamond and Sheet Anchor and some 50,000 residents are expected to benefit.
Also under the list the of achievements for the ministry, as listed by Minister Bulkan, was the improved operations of the Haags Bosch landfill, which has become a model sanitary facility; completion of an integrated solid waste management strategy, which will inform the Solid Waste Management Bill; the launch of the Green Generation Guyana Sanitation Campaign; and the upgrading of three regional dumpsites to landfills.
Speaking about plans for this year, Bulkan noted that the ministry has been allocated some $8.8 billion and this will be utilised in investments in the local government areas, regional development, housing, water and sanitation.
He said that the focus of this year is to expand and improve participation under the theme ‘Shared prosperity and the good life for all.’
Also institutional strengthening will be key in consolidating and entrenching the local government agenda and according to the minister they will be building on their successful distribution of the councillor’s handbook by training councillors and community stakeholders on its contents.
During this year as well work will be advanced to realise the long-overdue update of property registers in the municipalities and other local authority areas. As a result, by next year, new councils should have an updated registrar to make equitable decisions on the rates they want to utilize, taking account of rural/ urban socioeconomic factors.
Under water and sanitation, the minister said that there will be the creation of a Water and Sanitation Unit within the ministry to formulate and coordinate implementation of a water and sanitation strategy in accordance with the Water and Sewerage Act. There will also be the hosting of a National Water Conference in collaboration with local businesses, Non-Govern-mental Organisations and other agencies.