Breathing new life into Local Government – Commentary

Breathing new life into Local Government

July 2, 2015 | By | Filed Under Editorial

Minister Ronald Bulkan has said that Local Government Elections could be held this year. However, the final word rests with the Guyana Elections Commission. And if the People’s Progressive Party maintains its position on the Elections Commission then that party will not be contesting those elections.

Local Government Elections were last held in 1994, two years after the General Elections that brought the People’s Progressive Party to power. It saw many areas electing their leaders because the People’s National Congress declined to contest the elections as a party.  The former President Desmond Hoyte had made a pitch to the government that the Local Government Elections should be truly local. 

So it was that the major political parties contested the Municipal Elections. In fact the PPP contested the elections in every Neighbourhood Democratic Council. It lost in many and that seemed to have been the reason for the failure of the then government to hold Local Government Elections.

Over the twenty years many of those elected have since died or migrated or have lost interest in serving on these Councils. Things reached the stage where the government was forced to install Interim Management Committees. And some worked but in many cases, the government made its presence felt by imposing its authority on those Councils where it felt that it did not have political control.

But there was a lot more to these Councils. For example, the NDCs depended heavily on rates and taxes. However, rates and taxes collection was never to the required level. It could be that the various Overseers were reluctant to impose the law on defaulters. Of course there was talk about hard times. The result was that these Councils had to rely more and more on central government.

In the past Local Government units were extremely powerful; people spoke in awe of the Overseer who would patrol the Council and note the various indiscretions of the residents. More often than not, the issue involved wanton garbage disposal. The homeowner was severely penalized. The result was that most rural communities were almost spotless.

In those cases drains were dug and communities were maintained because the people paid their rates and taxes. They knew what they wanted and they knew what was expected of them. It is unfortunate that the spirit of community development died over the past few decades. It might have been the determination of central government to be all powerful; it might have also been the result of the corruption that crept into the system.

Perhaps the worst affected was the Georgetown City Council which boasts the longest serving Mayor. In most towns (except in Guyana) the Mayor is a powerful political figure. He dictates policy; he is the person who determines the laws in his town. In Georgetown, the Mayor is more or less a titular figure. Up until recently he cut a sorry figure in confrontations with the Town Clerk who was openly supported by the central government.

To make matters worse, Georgetown, despite its poor revenue collection, could do precious little about expanding its revenue base. The Minister of Government controlled the actions of the Council, from the size of its budget to its very operations. This control of the City Council is not likely to end anytime soon because in all the rush to pass legislation no one is paying attention to legislation governing the Municipalities.

On one occasion the Georgetown City Council attempted to tax large trucks using the city streets; this was shot down. When it sought a container tax, the government passed the legislation but held on to the money. It was even worse when City Hall pushed for an environmental tax. Styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles were clogging the drains and outfalls.

City Hall demanded the tax to pay for clearing the outfalls and drains; the Government said that City Hall had enough money if only it could collect outstanding taxes.

The new administration may be that bit more favourable to the City Council but there is need for elections to introduce fresh and vibrant blood.

Local Govt. Elections in November


…once GECOM gives go-ahead – Minister of Communities 
Local Government Elections will be held in November once the go-ahead is given by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). This was the assertion of the Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan,  [Read more]

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