In less than a week, Guyanese will make their way to the polls to vote for the parties, men and women who will run their local authorities for the next term. Next Monday’s Local Government Election will be the second of its kind in the country in 24 years and despite all of its flaws, a democratic process by which individuals have the opportunity to decide on their representatives at the municipal and village levels.
At the beginning of this week, as the countdown to polling day began in earnest, this newspaper published a report based on interviews conducted with some of the candidates seeking to represent Georgetown’s Constituency 11, which covers the area from East La Penitence to Riverview, Ruimveldt. While they outlined what needed to be done in the constituency, two of the three candidates who were interviewed were reluctant to make promises to their constituents, as they were unsure that the wherewithal existed or could be found to carry them out.
While these candidates seemingly offered honesty their words provided no succour to long-suffering residents of this constituency, who like many others around the city and the country at large had seen very little change in their surroundings since the last elections were held in 2016.
There is a proverb that says: ‘a promise is comfort to a fool’. This might not apply in every aspect of life – there are people who keep their promises, few though they seem to be – but it certainly seems to be so in reference to politics.
Empty promises are a tool for manipulation and for the most part, generally speaking, politicians are well versed in the art of deceptive influencing. Too many people would have fallen for the glib assurances some of them are wont to passionately offer: ‘If you vote for me, or for my party, I/we will deliver to you the sun, moon and stars’. In truth, they can barely supply a patch of dry earth – if that at all – and are well aware of it. What they want is power, which they may or may not abuse.
As far as Guyana’s local elections go, the turnout two years ago was not what was expected given that citizens, fed up with the maladministration of their towns and communities for over two decades, had actively lobbied for them to be held. The scenario was different from this time around as well. Some citizens, enthused by the idea of being able to help bring order to their communities had formed groups to contest the elections, including ‘Team Legacy’, Youth for Local Government’ and ‘Team Benschop’, and some had contested as independents. While some won a few constituencies, the major political groups – the APNU+AFC and the PPP/C – used their heavy electioneering machinery to make short shrift of the new contenders and for the most part, dominated in the areas they were traditionally popular in.
Independents and newbies on councils soon found that their voices were lost among the clamour of politics as usual for the parties representing the country’s government and opposition. Those who started out determined to work for their constituents soon found that they were unable to do much. Some, unable to swallow the taste of ashes in their mouths, quietly gave up after a while. This year, unsurprisingly, none of the groups are contesting the elections.
There are, however, diehard independent candidates who are giving it another whirl and newbies throwing their hats into the race for the first time. Their determination and optimism are commendable, particularly those contesting for constituencies in Georgetown and Greater Georgetown.
Garbage collection and removal and drainage are two age-old problems that city residents have long grown weary of. The last two years saw neither issue adequately resolved. Instead, attempts were made to deal with city parking that were both highhanded and contentious. Statutory meetings of the Mayor and City Council were for the most part a descent into discord.
If the voting this year follows the usual pattern – and there is nothing to indicate otherwise – then the brave independent souls who just might be elected by their constituents face as tedious a time as their predecessors. There is a possibility – albeit a slim one – given the separation of the APNU and AFC for this election, for better equity on the council, but it all depends on the citizens and their vote. It will be apathy and tradition, not the lure of empty promises that places political parties rather than community leaders and concerned citizens in charge of councils once again. It truly is time for a change, but it may not come about on November 12. Maybe next time around.