The constitutional commissions in Guyana arose out of the Constitutional Reform process and out of a determination to urgently set up constitutional structures to address our country’s ethnic problems exacerbated by the 1997 elections results.
The Local Government Commission is one such commission authorized by and born out of the bowels of our Constitution. In fact the Local Government Commission emerged as a significant conflict resolution strategy aimed at shielding constitutional bodies such as the Local Government Commission from political control. The expectation was and still is that by shielding them from political control, they would be able to function independently and even-handedly, thereby winning the confidence and trust of all ethnic groups. It was intended as part of a menu of measures aimed, inter alia, at returning power to the people and their elected representatives.
In this regard, may I refer readers to Article 212FFof our Constitution which highlights the prime purpose behind the establishment of constitutional commissions, which eschews political interference while contemporaneously seeking to minimize the influence of the executive and maximising the public perception of impartiality. It is undoubtedly for this reason also that Article 78A of our Constitution grants the Local Government Commission powers to regulate all Local Government Authorities “as it deems fit” without the direction and control of any authority.
The intent behind the establishment of the Local Government Commission is to reduce the influence of the central government by placing the oversight of Local Democratic Organs under the purview of the Local Government Commission and not a ministry; to allow for the management of towns and communities free from central government control which can, and indeed in the present scenario, has proven quite oppressive. In this way, it is anticipated that citizens’ role in their own development would be widened and they can personally and through their elected representatives play a more meaningful role in addressing local issues, solving local problems, making significant inputs in formulating community development plans and in monitoring the implementation of community projects, etc.
The government must therefore not see the Local Government Commission as a medium for intervention, control and the issuing of political directives while sheltering under claims of local democracy. Indeed, under the Local Government Commission Act 18 of 2013, there is no provision whereby the Minister of Communities is empowered to issue any Orders or Directives whatsoever to local authorities.
It is noteworthy that the government has shown indications that the extent of the grants and subvention support to local authorities will be a function of the overt support each shows for the government. It behoves all of us who wish to take local democracy beyond mere talk to make ourselves aware and guard against any insidious parallel administration arising from the advent of the Local Government Commission. Here I refer not only to the members and staff of Municipal and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils or their political representatives, but to the residents and other beneficiaries residing in the very constituencies for which the local authorities have a responsibility to provide as wide a range of services as its financial resources would allow.
It is unfortunate and indeed pathetic that, to the contrary, the government through the Ministry of Communities, has been employing manipulative tactics to control and suppress the work of the Local Government Commission. These tactics include making it difficult for the Commission to access financial resources to implement its 2018 Capital and Recurrent Budgets. These financial resources are required not only to meet the cost of recurrent expenditure such as office rental, stationery and office supplies and employment costs, but the acquisition of fixed assets, viz office equipment & furniture and vehicles for use by the Commission, funding its public awareness programme and reaching out into the various municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils to do its enquiries, listen to concerns of councils and residents, etc. These financial and other consequential inhibitions have been serving to impede the work of the Commission and to reduce it to a toothless and voiceless poodle. It is apparent that the government has determined to starve the Local Government Commission of resources to effectively and efficiently do its work.
Meanwhile, the Commission has been continually receiving letters of complaint and other correspondence seeking information and advice on issues of local governance and approval to act on the decisions of their councils on local government issues, etc. This correspondence coming from residents, municipalities and NDCs which have overtly expressed dissatisfaction that the Commission, five months after its eight Commissioners were sworn in, is yet to become fully operational. In the absence of an office, the Commission has been unable to meet representatives of the municipalities and NDCs and to address these matters in an orderly, timely and satisfactory manner. And when one examines the many functions of the Commission as set out under Part 11 Section 13 of the Local Government Commission Act No. 18 of 2013, we ought to appreciate why the public has been overtly expressing its dissatisfaction with the slow progress, notwithstanding the impediments and challenges the Commission has been facing.
It is obvious that the government’s call for local government reform was merely a call of convenience aimed at empowering themselves and not local communities. The present lethargy which the government has been displaying with respect to its expected support to the operationalization of the Local Government Commission leaves much to be desired. Expediency or deception?
The call is for the APNU+AFC government to ensure that the unnecessary bureaucracies presently impeding the work of the Commission be removed and the Commission be allowed to function independent of the control and encumbrances of the Ministry of Communities as we work to address, inter alia, the challenges of local governance viz, allegations of incompetence, lethargy, corruption, over staffing, poor quality staff and discrimination in employment practices.