After five hours of debate the National Assembly last night passed the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2018 with the support of both sides of the house.
The Government side of the house however did not offer support to further amendments brought by Opposition Parliamenta-rian Zulfikar Mustapha to grant strict time delimitations to provisions included in several clauses related to elections of chairpersons.
Though they agreed with the proposed amendments, the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic however took the time allocated for debate to air grievances about how the Local Government System has been managed over the last two years. The main issue of contention was a recent order by Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan which removed 16 constituencies from 14 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and created nine new LGAs.
The opposition has argued that this move is an attempt to reduce PPP/C wins at the upcoming local government elections through gerrymandering and repeatedly stressed that the decision and its announcement was made without consultation with the public especially those living in the areas which would be affected.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira in particular argued that local government is fundamental to the architecture of Guyanese democracy and while government and in particular Minister Bulkan have paid lip service to local government they have been fickle in its execution.
“You can’t talk about democracy if you act to undermine that democracy…your actions defeat what you are talking about. They make a mockery of local government,” she railed at Bulkan while her colleagues argued that many Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and Municipalities have not received their subventions in a timely manner or in some cases at all while NDCs have been called to submit their budget to regional authorities and the Ministry in direct contravention of their status as independent bodies.
Bulkan in turn has told Stabroek News that the changes were made in consideration of councillors’ responsibilities and population size. During the debate he accused the PPP/C MP of introducing inaccurate and irrelevant arguments and repeatedly stressed that the amendments will make the process of local governance easier.
The amendments include procedures to break ties at both the municipal- and Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC)-levels without ministerial involvement and seeks among other things to harmonise the tenures of city and town councillors with those of neighbourhood councillors and the dates for their elections.
It amends six related pieces of legislation: the Municipal and District Councils Act, the Local Government Act, the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, the Local Democratic Organs Act, the Local Authorities (Elections) Amendment Act and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act.
The amendment provides for the Town Clerk to call a meeting of the councillors of the municipalities, in every year, not later than December 6th, to elect the mayor and the deputy mayor for the ensuing year.
The bill also amends the Municipal and District Councils Act, the Local Government Act and the Local Democratic Organs Act to provide for using the number of votes garnered by the councillors elected on the basis of Proportional Representation lists at the elections at which they were elected to resolve ties in the election of mayors, chairmen and deputy chairmen.
“The final option provided for under clauses 2(c), 3 and 5 (of the Act) is similar to the procedure under article 177(3) of the Constitution relating to the drawing of a lot to resolve the difficulty from a tie,” the explanatory memorandum says.
The bill also amends the Local Authorities (Elections) Act to provide for a procedure to resolve ties among constituency candidates that result from an election and the Local Authorities (Elections) Act to harmonise the period for election of councillors of NDCs with that of councillors of municipalities, which shall be held once every three years on any date during November 1st to December 7th of the third year, counting from the year in which the term of office of the council started, which date shall be appointed by an order of the Minister of Communities.
As a result, it also amends the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Act 1990 to harmonise the period for election of councillors of municipalities with that for Neighbourhood Democratic Councils.
The bill’s enactment would also amend the Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2000 “to facilitate the effective implementation of continuous registration and the availability of an electoral list which shall always be in force and which shall be routinely updated every six months.”