Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/20142303 10 Feb, 2014
Mr. Trotman: We, on this side of this House, are being requested to collaborate with the party in Government to further frustrate the people by agreeing to another postponement of Local Government Elections which is long overdue. I say “to further frustrate” deliberately because for several years this exercise of getting approval from the National Assembly for the postponement of Local Government Election has been repeated without the Government’s promise to hold elections within a timely manner being kept. The failure by this Government to hold Local Government Election over the years must be seen for what it is - a trampling on the rights of the people to elect their representatives at the local level.
Let us not trivialise this matter. It is too important to be wished away. Let us, therefore, confront the reality. What is the reality? It is this: In spite of the Government’s continued putting off the elections the people keep lifting their voices demanding that they are held with the specific intention of exercising their rights to put their designated representatives in position of authority at the levels of NDCs and municipalities. As they demand the holding of elections, the people have also been resisting, as they have done in a number of communities, the identification and imposition of pseudo community leaders by the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development. That is the reality.
The involvement of citizens at a local level should not be seen and construed as doing a favour for the people. It is something that the Constitution provides for. Article 12 prescribes that the local government system shall be an integral part of the organisation of the state. Article 13 requires that the post political system to provide increasing opportunities for the involvement of people in the management and decision making process of the state. Article 71 directs that local government is a vital aspect of democracy, shall be organised to involve as many people as possible in the task of managing and developing the communities in which they live.
The question we need to ask is: Why the PPP/C Government, which has sworn to uphold the Constitution, is reluctant to, over the past umpteen years, hold the elections which are intended to give meaning to the letter, spirit and intent of the Constitution?
After listening to the General Secretary of the PPP/C at one of his recent press conferences when he announced that party's readiness to contest elections, General and Regional and or Local Government, at anytime, the mystery why Local Government Elections are not being held only deepens. One is left to wonder at the reasons why those who boast of their invincibility, and who are control of the mechanisms, are unwilling to test their popularity by going the route of elections. I believe, Sir, that in spite of the air of bravado, one of the reasons which militate against their holding of Local Government Elections, particularly over the last three years, is the fear generated by the results of the November 2011 Elections — the fear of further rejection by citizens in those communities in which the elections are to be held.
I also believe that another element of fear, which has consumed the PPP/C, is the danger it sees in giving real meaning to the term "empowering the masses." That is why it seeks to retain control over existing local government entities. Were this not so we would not have witnessed the blatant demonstration of the abuse of power by the party in Government as that party redoubled its efforts to retain its influence and control over the decision making process of the local government entities.
Mr. Speaker, the Members on this side of the House and citizens in Guyana, who unreservedly support the entrenchment of democratic principles, are disturbed at the most recent backward and undemocratic developments in respect to the holding of Local Government Elections in Guyana. I refer here to the non assent by the President of one of the most important pieces of legislation to engage the attention of the National Assembly in respect to advancing the local government agenda. As you are aware Sir, this Tenth Parliament was asked to consider four pieces of legislation that were intended to take the local government machinery beyond where it stood for years. In its own deliberate judgement the Assembly felt that the proposals should go before a Special Select Committee from where recommendations, on the way forward, came to the full Assembly for consideration. Those recommendations were duly considered and adopted by the Assembly. However, when they finally got to the attention of the President, assent was withheld to one of them.
The President's non assent to the Local Government (Amendment Bill) 2012 is extremely worrying, and is an insult to this National Assembly, particularly...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Trotman, the Standing Orders particularly state that you will not invoke the name of the President. I think you made a reference to the non assent and I did not intervene but to allow you to go on to speak to the President’s insulting the House and so forth, I cannot allow it. I note that the President did not assent. I did not interfere with that. The Standing Orders would not allow me to allow you to go further to bring the President’s name into the debate, Standing Order 41(7).
Mr. Trotman: The PPP/C's posture on the issue of ministerial oversight of local government organs can best be described as inconsistent and self-serving. What I am most disturbed about is the fact that the Bill, which has set out to do precisely what the PPP advocated on Monday, August 14th 1980, in this Assembly when it participated in the debate on the Local Democratic Organs Bill 1980, that is, to curb the Minister's excessive powers over the Local Government organs, was not assented to.
While what I am alluding to here occurred more than 33 years ago the
developments are most instructive. Leading the attack for the PPP on
what he considered were the wide powers given to the Minister in the proposed legislation, the Hon. Reepu Daman Persaud examined what he saw as "contentious" areas in the Bill and pronounced on them.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to crave your indulgence to quote extensively from the contribution of the Hon. Member to the debate on that day. The quotation, which I am referring to, can be found in the text of that day’s proceedings which I have a copy of here. In relation to clause 4 of the Bill, pages 16 and 17, the Hon. Member said:
"The Minister may by order divide Guyana as he may deem fit into ten regions and may in like manner divide a region into sub regions, a sub region into districts and the whole gamut of the thing. The Minister is doing that. It is like setting the boundaries for elections. One would expect if you are moving towards greater democracy, greater involvement of the people that such functions would have been informed by an independent body and not by a Minister, a Minister who will be part of the electoral process, a Minister whose party — I am dealing with the principle — a Minister whose party will be involved in the elections. He decides the boundaries, he decides where it will start and where it will end, all of that and then other parties that wish to fight elections will have to start against those disadvantages. I say also that clause 4 is also objectionable and must be opposed by us."
He then went on to say, in relation to clause 5(f), and this can be found on pages 18 and 19:
"Cde. Speaker, among other powers which the Minister has, let me tell you one. He will probably tell us, or a spokesman from the Government, how this clause, clause 5(f) will be used: "sanctions (including fines and public reprimands) against local democratic organs and any members and officers thereof for breach or dereliction of duty," the Minister by order sanction these things. How will the Minister arrive at his conclusion? The fact is the legislation gives him the authority and power and there is no provision in this Bill to ensure that those against whom sanctions are made, that they are given a fair hearing so that the law of natural justice can prevail in such circumstances.”
Mr. Speaker, if that sounds familiar, it is because it is happening right now in the present local government system.
The Hon. Reepu Daman Persaud went on to say:
“Thus the Bill gives tremendous power to the Minister who will be responsible for local government and much more power that exists at the present time in the corresponding legislation, local authority, municipality, etc. The Minister can come by way of legislation which can be fully and thoroughly debated before he seeks to enforce any of those ideas and concepts written into clause 5 of the Bill. He has the power to dissolve on his own the local body, and he has the power to appoint a temporary body when that one has been dissolved.”
Again, if this sounds familiar, it is because of what is taking place at this present juncture.
Hon. Member Persaud went on to say:
"I remember Mr. Speaker in this very House, in the early sixties we criticized very severely what was then known as the Local Government Board. We said that it was undemocratic in every sense of the word and we must move away from that kind of institution so that the people can be involved, so that the people could make decisions and so if sanctions are to be passed, the people are going to pass sanctions. How can the government, how can the Minister argue that this Bill gives power to the people, that it extends democracy, and he labels it "Socialist Democracy" both in words and in writing, when in fact the Minister will exercise powers that no Minister should have in any democratic society and particularly if we are talking about giving greater powers to the people?...”
[Mr. Nandlall: Who was that Minister?] What we are talking about here is not who the Minister was but what the PPP’s position was at that particular point in time. That is what we are talking about.
“I see greater powers have been given to the Minister. He dissolves the council and he reconstitutes it by appointing people of his own choice. Therefore, if at any stage of this so-called democratic process these bodies were to make decisions which the government did not agree with, or they were to do anything which the Minister may not agree with, there could be no doubt that such persons can be disciplined with the greatest ease without any need to go to tribunal for proper enquiry and examination and sanction passed against them. More than that, they could be fined too, if one reads further into the legislation".
Mr. Speaker, after listening to those words, that scathing attack on the powers given to the Minister in the proposed legislation by the Hon. Member Reepu Daman Persaud in 1980 and when one sets alongside it with what is current today one can only conclude that the PPP was being hypocritical then. I understand that the word “hypocritical” is not a word which can be used, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: No, so you will withdraw that.
Mr. Trotman: That the PPP was promulgating double standard then. It was were only biding its time and waiting for the opportunity to exercise the powers it professed to be in disagreement with. If that is not the case where then is the greater power to the people, which the PPP promised in 1980? Where has the power of the Minister been reduced in keeping with the expressions of the Hon. Reepu Daman Persaud? In the absence of these things I am left to conclude that in refusing to assent to the recommendations sent to him by this National Assembly in 2013, recommendations which were essential to ushering the changes, the then Hon Member Reepu Daman in 1980 championed on behalf of the PPP, I am forced to conclude that the PPP was only maintaining the deceitful behaviour of that party.
Mr. Speaker: No. Let us come up with a better choice of words.
Mr. Trotman: …that the PPP was indulging in doublespeak at that particular time.
I cannot conclude my contribution to this debate without posing the question that is uppermost in the minds of citizens in this country: What must be done to ensure the expeditious holding of Local Government Elections, the kind of Local Government Election that gives power to the people at the level of communities? It seems to me, Sir, that when one takes the behaviour of the PPP/C Government into consideration the struggle for Local Government Elections has to be intensified. It is clear that the party in Government is not prepared to concede to the people the kind of elections the people want to have.
What people want in respect of Local Government Elections is the opportunity to elect their representatives and in the process, clothing them with the power to make and implement decisions on their behalf. They want to see developments take place in their communities. They want to see garbage free communities; they want efficient, qualified administrators, not handpicked hacks, and most of all they want to be rid of the interference by the Minister in the affairs of the communities. That is what people wish for when Local Government Elections are held and this is what they must have. Are these conditions only possible when people take it to the streets? Is that the only thing which the Government understands? Are negotiated settlements without street action no longer possible in this country?
I shudder to think that this may be the case. If it is, and I hope it is not, the consequences could be too great to be imagined.
Finally, I wish to state that all of us, who believe that elections at the local level is a necessary step in the empowerment of people to contribute to the development of their communities and themselves, must today draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough”. Unless there is a clear indication here today, unless there is a clear indication here and now when Local Government Elections will be held, we, on this side of the House, must withhold our approval to the Government's request to postpone the elections. We must only support this request by the Government if the amendments, which we are posing, are accepted. To do otherwise, as I have said at the commencement of my presentation, is to collaborate with the Government in denying the people the right to demonstrate free will in so far as the choice of their representatives is concerned.
Thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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