The ruling coalition administration has passed a bill on local government reform completely blanking the opposition. Both sides are playing politics with local government reform and neither seems interested to really empower local bodies. The latest bill does not really empower local governments. Right now, local governments are controlled by the centre – the local governments are directed from the centre lacking meaningful independence on expenditure or projects. While the parties are fighting at the centre, the people are neglected and suffering at the local level. The planned local government elections in November will not make much difference to peoples’ lives. Local bodies should be empowered so as to address issues that directly affect people in their constituencies.
Bipartisanship is needed in the House on a critical issue like local government reform. It should not be about gaining political advantage but to empower local communities.
The central government (both parties) should consider granting significant powers to the local bodies and allow them to function independently of the centre as exists in diaspora countries like the USA and Canada. Empowering local bodies will ease a lot of the day-to-day problems people face – especially on infrastructure (local roads), policing, schools, markets, agriculture, etc. Grant local bodies powers to be autonomous to manage their own affairs so as not to be dependent on the center.
The coalition in its manifesto promised local government reform to empower the bodies. But so far it has not fulfilled this objective. It is not too late for the coalition parties to show that they are serious about local government reform and that they are not opposed to empowering people at the local level. The Opposition parties and civic society can pressure the government to give powers to the local people instead of seeking to score political points. What is important is that the people become free of the stranglehold from the centre.
Instead of playing politics with local government reform, members of both parties in the house should think seriously about and work collaboratively on granting autonomy to the local bodies. Bring the local government system closer to what is practised in America and Canada since these are the countries that Guyanese are attracted to migrate and settle. Let us adopt some of the positive measures of the developed world that can actually work in Guyana and that people are clamouring for.
Give the local organs enough revenues as well as the power to secure their own funding like taxes and fees; real executive authority not just titles like Chairman or Mayor to function with power as in the US and Canada – manage their revenues without a veto from the centre; responsibilities like maintenance of schools, roads, bridges, local tourism, security, and real local development in their areas; among others.
Local government reform as suggested above will lead to development in communities and is no doubt an important step in the governance process of our country. I urge the parties to grant the local governments autonomy.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram