The Local Government Commission (LGC) has effectively been shut down as the entity cannot access funds to pay its staff and bills, Chairman of the Commission Mortimer Mingo says.
Speaking at a press conference at the LGC’s Eping Avenue office yesterday, Mingo blamed the shutdown on the refusal of Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Commu-nities Emile McGarrell to counter-sign the documents that would release finances to the agency.
However, when contacted by Stabroek News, McGarrell said that the commission needs to submit a work programme and cash flow that reflects the budget of $124 million allocated to the agency for 2019. If this cannot be done, then no assistance can be offered to the agency, he said. Stabroek News understands that the LGC has asked for funds above the figure allocated.
“They have submitted a work plan and we have forwarded it to the Ministry of Finance; I can’t act outside my authority, I have no authority over them and I don’t have authority to act outside of Ministry of Finance guidelines,” the PS added.
Meanwhile, Mingo, reading from a prepared statement, told reporters that it has been more than two months since “essential services” have been paid for and 65 days since the 27 employees of the LGC have been paid.
He explained that on January 14th, 2019, when emoluments and expenses cheques were submitted to McGarrell to be countersigned, the commission was informed that he would be unable to affix his signature for the adjustment of the commissioners’ emoluments.
This resulted in a decision to remove the adjusted emoluments and restore the previous payments for the commissioners, while the salary request for the staff was resubmitted. However, Mingo said, they were informed by way of a letter from the Deputy PS of the Ministry of Com-munities, that the ministry was not in agreement with the level of pay that the commission’s staff was receiving since, according to the letter, these salaries were not in keeping with the “traditional Public Sector emoluments.” Mingo said the commission never received any objection to the release of these payments from the Ministry of Finance
Mingo further noted that the commission was represented at a meeting with McGarrell on January 29th to ascertain whether the impasse could be resolved. He contended that at the meeting, the PS pointed to the provisions of the Fiscal Management and Account-ability Act and refused to entertain discussions on Article 78 A of the Constitution and the Local Government Commission Act No. 18 of 2013.
“The Local Government Commission has exhausted all avenues to address this matter through the proper channels, writing on this issue to the Ministry of Communities, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Finance, all to no avail,” he said.
“What is factual is that the 27 employees of the commission have been required to work for the past two months with no pay, essential services have not been paid for, and just an hour ago, our telecommunication via cell phone has been disconnected for want of payment of the bill. We have also engaged the attention of His Excellency, the President, on this matter by way of a letter, to which we have received an acknowledgement of receipt, and it is our hope that some definitive action will be taken to address this matter comprehensively to allow the commission to be able to discharge its mandate in keeping with the Constitu-tion of Guyana,” he added.
Responding to questions from the media about the budget, Mingo explained that the commission had initially submitted to the Ministry of Finance a proposal for $305 million for both its capital and its operations budget. This budget was approved first by the commission and according to Mingo, was in keeping with the work programme which would have been executed in 2019.
Also included in the proposal were wages, salaries and emoluments for the commissioners and the staff.
“The budget was presented to the Ministry of Finance and in keeping with the Local Govern-ment Commission Act, this budget was presented to parliament and we were subsequently informed by the PS of the Ministry of Communities in December that the allocation that was approved by parliament was $124 million for current and $13 million for our capital programme,” he noted.
Elaborating further, Mingo highlighted that the Ministry of Communities had received the same allocation for the implementation of recommendations following the Commission of Inquiry into City Hall.
Also addressed during the press conference was the claim made by the Ministry of Communities that the 2019 employment cost for the LGC’s commissioners and staff will account for 91.4 per cent of its total budgetary allocation for the year.
It was explained that contrary to the claim, 54 per cent of the allocated sum of the current budget was going to be used to take care of emoluments and salaries. “That 90 something they alluded to was the submission which was approved by the commission,” Mingo said.
Reiterating a point from the statement, Mingo said the cheques were sent to be signed but the PS refused to sign it. As a result, the commission, after only $124 million was approv-ed, re-prioritised its work programme which also included the emoluments that were being made to the commissioners.
“It was recommended, submitted and approved by the commission and we relooked that and we reverted back to the old emoluments that were paid to the commissioners,” he said, before noting that the salaries for the staff were the same that were being paid in 2018.
“We had to tweak our work programme to satisfy the sums allocated to this commission, so now it stands at 55 per cent and you can see the consistency in what we have done. It is unfair to us if you take away our proposal to say that what is left is 91 per cent cost for employment; you can only gave the percentage after we would have done the re-work. It is grievous and quite disingenuous to state that it is 91 per cent (of) the employment cost when you haven’t given us an opportunity to rework the budget in keeping with the cuts that was put in place,” he added.
It was also disclosed that in addition to no salaries for staff, the commission does not have the financial capacity to pay its utilities or even purchase water for the office. When asked why the payment for these services have not been forthcoming, Mingo said he too is at a loss.
‘Not a traditional public service’
Meanwhile, veteran Trade Unionist and Local Government Commission-er Andrew Garnett, who was also present, spoke on the issue of non-traditional public service salaries being paid to the commission’s staff as cited by the Ministry of Communities.
“This is not a traditional public service agency, this is the Local Government Commission, a constitutional agency and if you do a comparative analysis in terms of some quasi-government agencies, they are not receiving traditional public servant salaries…we have done our comparison and it would be unfair to our qualified, mixed-skill set and experienced workers that we bring on board here to pay them civil service salaries,” Garnett said.
“We have qualified young people with experience, there is no promotional opportunity for a number of them…you have to compensate them in order to keep them within the Local Government Commission,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mingo noted that the current salary being paid to the staff was being paid since July 2018 without objection or query from the two ministries.
Notwithstanding, the situation of non-payment of more than $9 million in salaries for the month of January has left staffers frustrated, which has since been communicated to the commission via a letter.
“We have written to the Head of State seeking his intervention and he would have responded to us and we have decided that we are going to see what level of intervention he would have made over the next few days. But as a commission, we are concerned that another pay period is coming and there is no indication that the staff will be paid,” Mingo said.
“If the ministry has an issue with the Local Government Commission, at least the question of payment for the staff should not be embroiled in that. Pay the staff their wages and salaries and let us deal with the other issues expeditiously so that we can once and for all put this matter to rest,” he added.
Meanwhile, Local Government Commission-er Clement Corlette, who also attended the media briefing, suggested that the LGC is now becoming assertive and has been making prudent interventions into correcting the anomalies and the ministry that was first tasked with the responsibility is apparently not too happy with the progress that they have been making, which has resulted in efforts to stymie the work of the commission.
“This is calculated to suppress the commission that it will eventually become diminished and so this is to preserve the status quo, where the minister was everything; but the laws are now different and the minister is not everything and he has to be made to recognise the functions and jurisdiction of the Local Government Commission,” Corlette said.