On Monday last, residents of some villages along the lower East Coast Demerara were exhorted to reclaim their communities through the use of the ballot box at this year’s Local Government Elections. Well there may not be enough time for them to truly make this charge a reality by November/December when this year’s elections are due, but they should pay heed to these words and ensure that they really do so.
It was Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Annette Ferguson who made this call during a community meeting at the Plaisance Primary School on Sunday last. She was speaking to some of the residents of the contiguous villages of Plaisance, Goedverwagting and Sparendaam on the lower East Coast Demerara and was quoted by the Department of Public Information as urging them to “take back your communities” at the upcoming local elections.
Since we have all seen how politics can stymie development in communities, especially when one party holds the purse strings, and another holds the power, residents of all villages throughout Guyana would do well to take the minister’s advice very seriously. One thing that is certain is that one does not have to be a politician or even become one to successfully run the affairs of a small village or town. In fact, non-politicians are even leading countries these days: Guyana and the United States of America being two cases in point.
But in order to ensure that the qualification ‘successfully’ really fits, one must at least have the best interests of the community at heart. Every village has diehards for whom, regardless of which party is in power, the viability of the community takes precedence. These are the people who should really be running as independents to take control of the villages and towns and make them shining examples of what can be done when it is the community that matters, rather than looking out for one’s guys, or getting a one up on the other guys.
The fact of the matter is that there should be a clear division between local government and central government. The minister said so herself when she told the residents of the three villages on Sunday that it was their Neighbourhood Democratic Council which had to ensure that services worked: like garbage collection, maintenance of drains and community roads and the streetlights. Ms Ferguson made it clear that the residents should not depend on her ministry and by extension the central government for the provision of these services. She noted too that the councils received a subvention from the government and taxes from the residents which should be used to provide these services.
Unfortunately, the lines are blurred and will remain so until the councillors in charge of these villages are no longer members of either the ruling party or the one in opposition. It is when the party loyalty and the looking out for members’ interest become priority that corruption and bias take root and the village suffers. It also does not help that the administrative staff of the various village councils are employed by and report to a government department, turning the blur into a virtual fog.
Sadly, it is unlikely that this taking back will ever happen in Georgetown. It is the capital and the seat of the central government and though it was proven—at the time when there was an interim management committee—that non-politicians can perform efficiently at local government; the politics have already determined that it is not about to be repeated. So, Georgetown is effectively doomed to always be the football kicked about in power struggles.
Although the present government has to be commended for holding Local Government Elections in 2016 for the first time since 1994, the reality has not lived up to the hype. The long period during which these elections were not held should have meant that persons interested in being on councils were better prepared to take the reins and fix the things that had been neglected. What happened instead was that in several instances old councillors were re-elected and remained rusty and new ones seemed not to be given the opportunity to introduce new ideas. In effect, the status quo stayed in place and residents have not seen the changes they expected Local Government Elections would bring about. The “infrastructure in certain communities”, Minister Ferguson was quoted as speaking about, those blocked drains, lack of street lights and deplorable bridges and roads have not even begun to be addressed. This has caused disaffection among people and rightly so.
Perhaps the call to ‘take back communities’ could become a prophecy that would really bring some clear division between local and central government and allow real community-level involvement.