Vanishing act: Voluntary groups disappear from race for city council

-contrite APNU seeks another chance to do better

Current Georgetown Mayor Patricia Chase-Green leading the APNU contingent yesterday (Photo by Terrence Thompson)

Voluntary groups have disappeared from the contest for seats on the Georgetown City Council but a few independent candidates continue to see local government as an opportunity to serve their community.

The 2016 Local Government Elections (LGE) saw five Voluntary Groups throwing their hats in the ring for seats on the city council but these groups have all disappeared and on Nomination Day yesterday, only political parties showed up to present lists of candidates for the November 12th elections.

The larger showings of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in the city were complemented by a small showing from the Alliance for Change (AFC) and parties such as the United Republican Party (URP) and the GNS party.

Youth for Local Go-vernment (YFLG), which contested in 2016, had registered their symbol for the 2018 elections but according to leader Cleon Halley, they encountered a worrying lack of knowledge about the local government system from those who wish to contest on their behalf. “We had a number of persons in Georgetown and Regions 3, 10 and 6 who signaled interest in contesting with us but we found that the basic knowledge of local government structures and function was lacking for most if not all of the persons. It would’ve taken time to educate persons and I find it hard to offer people who don’t know as candidates,” he explained.

According to Halley, his group has decided to instead create a curriculum for persons interested in understanding the system and to engage in community education across the 10 administrative regions.

Overall, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) said it received no major complaints yesterday in relation to the process for the submission of the lists of candidates by political parties, voluntary groups and individuals to contest the LGEs that could not be fixed on the ground.

GECOM’s Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward told Stabroek News that the submissions of lists were made to the offices of the returning officers countrywide.

If defective lists would have been submitted, she said, the entities or individuals would be written to and they would have to make the correction.

Seven political parties, 21 voluntary groups and 33 individuals had indicated their intention to GECOM to contest the elections.

Ward said that until all the information was received from all the returning officers, only then would GECOM be able to say definitively how many candidates would have actually made submissions and how many would be eligible to vie for the seats in the country’s 10 municipalities and 70 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs).       

‘We must apologise’

Meanwhile, after two years in control of the Georgetown municipality, APNU is apologising for its failures and asking for another chance. Current Deputy Mayor Akeem Peter, who for two years held one of the 22 APNU seats on the council, told reporters that “we must apologise for not reaching the expectations of people.”

Speaking to reporters at Critchlow Labour College, Peter said the tenure of the last council and the hundreds of millions pumped into the municipality by central government were not enough to fix Georgetown’s issues. “We reached something that was there for decades and it’s quite unfair to fix it in two years and we’ll continue to fix it once we are elected again,” he stated. He added that despite this, he is “satisfied with the progress made by this council.”

Challenged on the controversies, including that involving the parking meter proposal, which saw protests against the council, Peters said, “we will continue to build our credibility…we have entered the governmental arena in 2015 at central government and we will continue to strive towards building that credibility and building confidence into the people.”

He stressed that his coalition brings to the table “a lot of new faces,” including young people who came up to represent their constituencies.

“The party believes in young people and believes in youth and the party decided to give the young persons [the chance] to lead those constituencies along with the persons serving there before because we understand that experience is important,” he elaborated.

Peter also promised to improve drainage, financial management, and management of individual constituencies where they will develop healthier, safer, stronger and cohesive communities.

During the last LGE, the APNU contested as part of the APNU+AFC Coalition, the same coalition which forms central government but the two partners have parted ways for this year’s polls.

Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, who presented the APNU list yesterday, was asked if this separation had caused the party any fear.

“Fear? Look at us! We don’t use that word. We welcome everyone, all the individuals, the groups and the other political parties… they too have the opportunity through the David Granger administration to participate at the local level in ensuring that we build our communities; that people become more community oriented and that we take ownership of our communities, not only for us but for the future generation,” she responded.

‘No theatrics’

The AFC, for its part, showed up ready to contest the First Past the Post elections in all 15 of Georgetown’s Constituen-cies and the Proportional Represen-tation aspect of the election.

Party executive Michael Leonard appeared with a modest contingent, which included former Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan. Duncan, who holds one of the three seats granted the AFC on the current council, will not be contesting these elections. Former Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikaran and Councillor Carlyle Goring, the other two AFC councillors were also absent from the list presented.

Leonard, in 2016, led the now defunct Team Legacy, which holds two seats on the current council. The team appears to have disbanded and Leonard noted that his party, the AFC, is set to contest in all 10 municipalities and “as many NDCs as possible.”

Asked about the seemingly poor showing for yesterday’s submission in Georgetown, he stressed that his party, which is campaigning under the theme “fit and proper,” doesn’t believe in theatrics.

“We don’t believe in theatrics. We have our persons at the office and we have strategically deployed persons across the regions because we are contesting not only in Georgetown but in all of the municipalities and in as many of the NDCs as possible so we have persons going around to offer strategic support,” he said.

Leonard further noted that his party’s youthful slate will be “speaking on behalf of the citizens, ensuring that we push for accountability and transparency.” He noted that they will be pushing for the cash-strapped municipality to livestream its statutory meetings and maintain a public voting record so that councillors cannot mislead residents about their positions on controversial issues, such as the now suspended metered parking contract with Smart City Solutions.

‘Overhaul City Hall’

Meanwhile, the PPP/C, like APNU, showed up in colourful splendor and presented its list to the Returning Officer. One of its “party faithful” took the opportunity to offer those gathered in the Critchlow Labour College courtyard the chance to buy a passport cover or two.

Councillor Bisham Kuppen told media operatives that a PPP/C led council will “overhaul City Hall” by practicing proper accountability and transparency. “You have to realise that billions are being spent with no clear accounting,” he said, adding that even central government doesn’t trust the city council so voters definitely should not.

“Even the government told them that they would not assist them any longer with bailouts. They could not afford to pay the garbage contractors and the government came in [with] over $300 million but paid contractors directly instead of giving council the money. The same thing occurred with Kitty Market…the Ministry of Communities put $35 million there but didn’t give it to the council, they put their own contractors to do the work. So ask yourself: why would they do that to their own party,” he said.

According to Kuppen, the PPP/C’s 15 constituency candidates were selected through “intense house-to-house consultations in the communities” so they are a true representation of the constituency.

In a subsequent press release, the PPP/C said it presented 80 lists of candidates to GECOM for the polls. “The Party sought as far as possible to select the candidates for the Municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils through a series of extensive community and house-to-house consultations throughout the country with the aim of having maximum inclusion,” it explained.

As a result, it said its Local Elections Organising Committees were instructed to include non-PPP members to have a balance between PPP and non-PPP candidates, resulting in its lists comprising a number of prominent members of civil society.

It added that the involvement of a large number of young people and women was a notable feature of its lists.

The United Republican Party (URP), which is set to contest the LGE in 24 NDCs and six municipalities, also showed up to submit their Proportional Representation list and one First Past the Post list.

Representative Marcia Lewis told Stabroek News that URP has continuously campaigned since the last general elections and has received numerous complaints about the functioning of the local government system.  “The people are disillusioned and we decided to come forward to offer them an option,” she noted.

Jason Hurbert, who will contest on behalf of the party in Constituency 11, stressed that the community is dissatisfied with what has happened since 2016. “We have been promised and not been [a] given quarter of what has been promised. Certain infrastructure has not been fixed, drains are not cleared and contracts which should’ve come to the neighbourhood did not. We have been short-changed because even the work being done is sub-standard,” he stressed. He added that it is his belief that those who are part of the community should handle the community’s business.

Noting that he has supported the larger parties in the past, Hurbert explained that he no longer has confidence in them. He said that he does not even know his councillor.

‘We cannot have people foisted on us’

The same concern has led Eon Andrews, a member of the PNCR to register as an individual candidate. Andrews, a resident of Constituency 11, sat on the council prior to 2016 and campaigned on behalf of the APNU+AFC during the 2016 elections but though he was on the APNU+AFC list of candidates, he was not selected as councillor.

According to Andrews, though he loves his party, he cannot support the persons they have selected to represent his community

“We have not seen anybody. My area is in a deplorable state and the residents have challenged me to do something because I convinced them to vote for the coalition. This time I can’t trust someone else to work on my community’s behalf. We cannot have people foisted on us,” he explained.

The issue of absent councillors was a noticeable motivator for the other individual candidates.

James Hermanstein, of Constituency 5, told this newspaper that for two years, he has attempted to work with his councillor Akeem Peter but “he is always busy.”

“Even though council was put in place, nothing was done and the people have said to us we haven’t seen anything done. We as the South Liliendaal Progressive Development Group have already done a lot of things which should’ve been done by the council,” he noted.

According to Hermanstein, his group has constructed a concrete walkway bridge in July, desilted the main drainage canal twice and cleared the eastern canal and the dam so that the children who use it as a short-cut to school could have access. He stressed that this has been done without help from the city council or the constituency councillor.   

Michael Williams, of Constituency 4, also feels that his community lacks the leadership and representation it needs. According to Williams, he is not aware of who his councillor is. He intends to offer his community better disease and pest control through the regular clearing and desilting of drains.

APNU’s Alfred Mentore is the councillor for Constituency 4 and he is set to face the most competition since three individual candidates have come forward to challenge him for his seat.

One of those candidates is evangelist Phyllis Jordan. Jordan told Stabroek News that she felt compelled to serve her community, which she feels is being neglected, and she was surprised by the support she has so far received. “I thought persons would have been aligned with one of the two larger parties but they were very willing to support me. Many of them said to me that they had no intention to vote and were happy that they now had someone to vote for,” Jordan related.

Dr Christopher Heywood, who, like Jordan, simply decided that he needed to do something to get his community right, told Stabroek News that he is entering the race with a desire to do good and the dedication to achieve any goal he sets himself. “I can vouch that with heart and effort we can get the community right and then maybe get the country right,” he stressed.

Activist Jai Narine ‘Don’ Singh has a similar vision. He explained to Stabroek News that he believes larger political parties should not govern at the local government level as they stifle participation from residents. “We need the people to govern at the grassroots, not the party. I would like to serve my constituency and give back to the area where I was born. I want to get the community, the residents involved in their community; get people back to a level where they care,” he said.

Singh will contest in Constituency 1, along with returning individual candidate Malcolm DeFreitas.

DeFreitas told Stabroek News that as a person prepared to serve, you must contest. He expressed optimism about his chances. “I think my chances are better now. I think people have a better idea of the importance of the independent candidate who answers directly to them without the filter of a political party,” he said.

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