Fiscal Transfers Bill 2012 – Bill No. 20/20121806 07 Aug, 2013
FISCAL TRANSFERS BILL 2012 – Bill No. 20/2012
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I told you some time ago that you were sitting on history, if you recall, and it appears that by the very nature of this Parliament, at each Sitting of the National Assembly, history could be made.
The fact that these Bills are consensually before this honourable House must be a signal moment in history of an independent Guyana. It is an illustration of what we can accomplish when we cooperate and work together in the interest of the Guyanese people. It is the first time that a Special Select Committee on a Government Bill, to be presented by a Minister, has been successfully chaired by a Member of Opposition anywhere in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Mr. Speaker: I will make sure it is noted in the Hansard, Mr. Williams.
Mr. B. Williams: Amidst the turbulence and cut and thrust of partisan politics, the success of the Special Select Committee on these local government Bills shines like a beacon and I wish to congratulate all the Members of that Special Select Committee for achieving this signal success in this Parliament. More particularly, Sir, when you heard the naysayers and soothsayers giving this Committee little chance of succeeding and when there were Hon. Members Mr. Neendkumar, Ms. Bibi Shadick, Ms. Gail Teixeira and the Minister – formidable fighters...I was told that they were called the “demolition gang”. If one did not want anything to succeed, they should be put in. Mr. Speaker, I wish to put on this record that that was a misdescription of those Hon. Members of this honourable House because they contributed significantly, Sir, to the work of this Committee. It was hard bargaining. I was heckled a lot of times by the Hon. Member, Mr. Neendkumar, who told me, “Mr. Chairman, you do not know what you are doing.” But at the end of the day, we were able to complete the work on those four Bills and here we are.
Local democracy is an idea which time has come. It has been quite an odyssey – 12 long years. Other persons might want to locate it even further back. The Joint Task Force on Local Government was established in the year 2001 by then President Jagdeo and the late President Hoyte who was then Leader of the Opposition. That really was the genesis of this exercise because it was supposed to flesh out the provisions in the Constitution dealing with local government reform, which came out of the constitutional reform process. An entire chapter has been dedicated to local government reform in the Constitution. These Bills did not just drop out of the sky. What you see in these Bills was presaged in the agreements made in the Joint Task Force on Local Government. The basic terms of reference, Sir, were these:
“We will set up a Joint Task Force within two weeks to undertake the task of implementing the provisions of Local Government reform legislation. This should be completed within 12 months.”
Well, we know, Sir, that it is 12 years later – well over a decade.
“We also agreed that local government elections be held as speedily as possible thereafter.”
What is clear is that Messrs Jagdeo and Hoyte, Leader of the Opposition at the time, contemplated that local government reform would come before local government elections.
“To this end, we will consult with the Elections Commission to alert them to this possibility.”
In other words, they were saying that whist the work of the Task Force was ongoing, they were giving the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) a heads up so that they would be working and preparing and be on a parallel track so that when the work was completed, they would not have had to then start doing the work, and that is the situation with where we are now.
Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has been given adequate notice of what we propose to do and, therefore, GECOM ought to have been working with a recognition that the passage of these Bills would have been successful in this honourable House and assented to by the President within a reasonable time, certainly before the recess. Therefore, since the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is not the person who does the actual work but it is done by very experienced officers within GECOM, we believe that the work should have been ongoing so that once we pass these Bills and they are assented, then GECOM could take over and possibly hold the local government elections by the end of the year.
Included in this remit was the monitoring and guiding of the drafting, passing and implementation of legislation to give greater autonomy to local government bodies. The Task Force was not just only to come up with these ideas, but it was to supervise the drafting and the passage though this honourable House and that is where we are at this point in time.
The methodology involved, inter alia, travelling the length and breadth of Guyana to consult with all communities in this country, and I can assure you that that work was very meaningful work because we had sent out questionnaires beforehand so when we got to the venues, we had people who were conversant with what was being proposed and were willing to give their independent positions on those matters.
I wish to say that I was availed the opportunity of seeing Guyana for the first time in such an expansive manner. It is much different when one is not in a supersonic jet and flying over but, in fact, in one of those twin engine aircraft. That is when one really sees the beauty of this country, Sir. I immediately became possessive. I then understood what was meant by “not a blade of grass”. It was very beautiful. The rolling savannahs... [Mr. Neendkumar: It took you a long time.] This was 12 years ago. Do not forget, gentlemen, hitherto I have been very obeying. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it was a worthwhile exercise.
There were great men in this process. The initial members who were appointed by President Jagdeo were: Minister Collymore, Mr. Phulander Khandai and Mr. Khemraj Rai. Those appointed by Mr. Hoyte were: Mr. Theophilus A. Earle, Mr. Vincent Alexander, who, in fact, was the co-chairman with Mr. Collymore, and yours truly Mr. Basil Williams. I see, also, that there was Mr. Llewellyn John appointed to that Committee. I say no more in that regard. Mr. Alan Monroe also served on this Task Force. He was a co-chairman. He replaced Mr. Alexander as co-chairman. There was also Mr. Navin Chandarpal, who we are indebted to for the formulae he gave us for Fiscal Transfers. I can assure that when he was rolling them out, Sir, we thought that he could have easily fitted into the nuclear programme of the United States of America with those fantastic figures and symbols that he placed before the Committee. As I said, we are now in the National Assembly and I believe that we are all fours and we are at full throttle and I am happy to hear the Hon. Minister urging all and sundry to support this Bill and all of the Bills.
In particular, with the Fiscal Transfers Bill, there was pure consensus on that; I do not think that we had a problem at all with it. Seventy-one of the local democratic organs will be using the same process and the same formula; Georgetown was treated differently. We believe it is a work in progress. The question of how much the Government will give to local government is very important. We believe that the lump sum given should be a line item in the budget. Another important feature is the ability of the local democratic organs to garner revenue.
When the Government gives to local democratic organs, the formulae determine what each local democratic organ gets in relation to population size, geographic size and rate of collectability. The other aspect of garnering revenue is very important because it means that a local democratic organ, an NDC or municipality could take independent measures to raise revenue. They have to get the consent of the Minister who must give his consent within a relatively short space of time and his consent cannot be unreasonably withheld. What this means is that Beterverwagting (BV) does not have to wait on central government to put a project in BV. They could go out and look for financiers. They could look for a backer. Somebody could put down a supermarket, shopping complex or a mall and whatever programmes they make in their own, independent judgment... Do not forget that greater autonomy is what is contemplated by the reform of local government. In doing so, it takes a great burden off of central government. This is a very big country and central government really cannot understand the needs of the communities through and all around Guyana in the way that the people in the communities will be able to identify and work towards. That is very important in terms of financial independence.
In addition to that, we believe that we have to keep reviewing these arrangements under this fiscal regime and so it would be a process which the Local Government Commission will have a role in because that has a monitoring role. We will keep working on improving and refining local government reform in the new model in which we envisage it.
Mr. Speaker, it is in the light of these premises that I urge all Members like the Hon. Member Mr. Persaud to support the Fiscal Transfers Bill for passage through this Hon. House.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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