Local government can improve the well-being of the people

Dear Editor,

The present state of Guyana’s economy is a cause for concern for most Guyanese. As the economy bleeds, the NDCs and municipalities must work to fill as much as possible of the huge void in local economic development created by the poor 2016 and 2017 national budgets presented by the APNU+AFC government to the Guyanese people and their equally poor implementation.

Local government has an important role to play in providing some employment and services to citizens and, in the process, improving the well-being of the people. Local leaders are presumed to be closer to the people and better positioned to understand their needs and local circumstances, and to ensure these needs are realistic and feasible and that they are realized. Unfortunately, consultation by the APNU+AFC Government with the local communities has been very limited.

The participatory democracy which local government is intended to engender goes beyond merely electing representatives. It allows for active participation as an individual and as a community in the decision and implementation processes through appropriate participatory mechanisms. Though I concede that public participation can be time consuming and costly, a socially acceptable compromise must be found. Our municipal and NDC leaders and councillors must reach out to the citizens including the business sector with greater frequency, planning with them and not merely for them.

Challenging though it is, the Town Councils and the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils must work to establish strategic alliances with existing and potential businesses to enable them to grow and to expand, and ultimately to create opportunities for employment and income generation.

Our NDCs and municipalities must by now have developed a vision for the development of their neighbourhoods and towns. They must be proactive and work assiduously to improve the way they do things and the results derived therefrom; facilitate improvements in terms of the range and quality of services provided to residents and so develop viable communities that would sustain their own development programme.

There are a number of measures which should be taken or strengthened if they are already in place in order to bring about the desired livelihood improvements about which I speak:

They should reduce dependency on central government for financial resources by, inter alia, enhancing and widening the revenue base and reducing expenses. They should optimise the collection of what is due to the council in the form of rates and taxes, market fees, building application fees, etc, utilizing revenue collected efficiently and accounting for same.

Under the Fiscal Transfers Act 2015, the local authority can receive grants from donor agencies to finance projects or meet employment costs. It can also borrow money from commercial banks and other financial institutions provided it has the required collateral/ability to repay.

More money available to a council necessarily means that more resources are available to pay better salaries, attract a better quality of staff and to train and upgrade them. It means also that the council and its staff can reach out with greater frequency and over a much wider population ; listen to their concerns and work with them to address these concerns. More and better services can be provided to citizens.

There is a role and contribution to development for private enterprise in local government areas, small though their impact may be. To the extent that these interventions make a small impact on unemployment figures and provide goods and/or services, eg clothing and textiles, supermarkets, washbays, restaurants, etc, it is nevertheless a case of action speaking louder than words. The local authorities must provide incentives to encourage private enterprise. The government is not doing so, but certainly our local authorities can.

The council can expand and improve the quality of the infrastructure and other services including the servicing of kokers and pumps, the cleaning of canals and drains, the collection and disposal of garbage; daycare for the elderly, street lighting, market/tarmac facilities, cemeteries, etc thereby providing employment and extending the range and quality of services provided by the local authority working in conjunction with private enterprise.

A council should enhance service delivery and widen citizens’ involvement. There should be proper financial accounting and reporting; council’s financial affairs must not be shrouded in secrecy. There would need to be increased public awareness and education, and community meetings would have to be held with greater regularity and there should be activities such as flag-raising, a day of sports and religious events such as Diwali, Christmas Day, Eid ul Ahza which bring people of all ages, ethnicities and classes together and provide also income earning opportunities.

Audits of the financial records of municipal and NDCs as per the requirements of the legislation must be done, and reports, including financial reports presented to the statutory meetings of the council for discussion.

We cannot be complacent if we are to build effective local governance with its benefits to the people. As good councillors we must make ourselves aware, ie we must be acquainted with the laws, bylaws, regulations, conventions and practices governing our municipalities and NDCs.  Reports from the councils’ committees, viz Works and Finance and Budget Committee meetings must be prepared and submitted to the council’s statutory meetings for discussion and adoption.

Councillors should be alert to the APNU+AFC government denying their NDC/municipality resources simply because they are perceived to be supporters of the PPP/C. They should be assured that the PPP/C will continue to work with them and support their efforts to bring local democracy to the people and their communities. In the process, we expect that they will work to improve the range and quality of services which local government organs provide for residents. By so doing, we will be able to reduce the level of poverty and inequality among the communities. Whatever councils do must contribute to the community good.

Yours faithfully,

Norman Whittaker

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