Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/20121509 07 Aug, 2013
LOCAL GOVERNMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL 2012 – Bill No. 12/2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I would like to join my Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, in his erudite presentation regarding not only the history of the Local Government Act, Chapter 28:02, but also in his expression quite correctly so, politically, of the need for reform and I would say revolutionary reform to the laws by which local authority is governed. I would have thought that it was in the context of a reformation of our laws to give expression to the notion of grass-root participatory democracy that references to the omnipotent power of a political appointee, the Minister, would have fallen without even the axe being used and that is perhaps why the contention is raised in this honourable House because the old order never voluntarily wishes to be replaced by new, innovative or revolutionary mechanism or order.
I have heard the Hon. Minister speaking to the defence of what they would probably propose as amendments to retain the old, which is, for me, unacceptable because you have to read the amendment to the Local Government Act in conjunction to the amendment to the Local Government Commission Bill. They have to be read in tandem.
Many years ago, still, perhaps, in short pants, I remember seeing a photograph of my father, who would have served all of his life in local government politics, which I still have – perhaps that is the only photograph that I have of him while he was still alive - with a placard. He was the village chairman and the deputy vice chairman. He had that placard hanging on his neck saying, “Local Government Board must go”. I have been trying to figure out and to place my father in the context of evolving political struggles at the grass roots levels and why he would want that to happen. At one time he would have spoken about McGowan, who was, I believe, the chairman of the board, I believe Mr. Llewellyn John might have been the Minister then or Mr. Mingo, and against the issue of political appointees, in that time, controlling the local government bodies, including the appointment and disappointment of overseers and other functionaries that would have been working with the local government systems.
In my mind, as I sat here, I did not want to speak to this issue because I think a lot has been said, the report is very comprehensive, as to why the changes have been made, but I was prompted to speak after I heard the Hon. Minister defending the position that the powers hitherto exercised by the political appointee with the Minister could not, now, be exercised by a Local Government Commission, that is set up under law; that is comprised or will be comprised members of a special quality, specifically people who are not involved in partisan political hustling. Why is it so obnoxious that they, having been appointed through a period of consultation from among peers and compeers of knowledge and experience, could not appoint or disappoint local government officers and staff? Why should that fiat reside in the hand of a political appointee, a party candidate at an election, a party activist, a party apparatchik in these days? Why are we clinging to the old, as my good friend and Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan said, colonial relic of trying to bring back the cork hat man? Remember the cork hat man. Mr. Granger, do you remember? Auchlyne’s school used to have a school inspector, with cork hat, who used to... [Dr. Ramayya: The messiah.] It is the messiah, yes. The children used to run and hide because they thought that he would have dragged them away to school, even by their shirt tail. That is the relic we want to go back to.
I say that these sets of amendments address a deficiency in the law. That is the first thing that we must recognise. One, the law did not speak to the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC). We had village council; we had district councils; we have local government bodies and rural councils, but we have functioning in Guyana, I believe, still, 65 NDCs and those have not, in any way, been provided for in what we all accept for the need of devolution of authority. That brings me to the point as to why do we want the Regional Executive Officer (REO) to have the cork hat role over Local Government Neighbourhood Democratic Council. This system is so truncated that the whole law, chapter 28:02, ought to have been dumped and totally re-written - I see the Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams is shaking his head - because this Act is archaic. It is not that it came out of the 1940s, but that it speaks to certain things, for example carriageways, those do not exist. It speaks to facilities that do not exist at all. Look at the by-laws and it will be seen that they have not been interrogated in any way whatsoever. I come back to what I have said that, since the formation in 1980, under the Local Government Act of the Regional Democratic Organ, it has a chain reaction that expenditure of the local government, that is the NDC, must be approved by the Regional Democratic Council (RDC). Ipso facto, the REO, who is the Accounting Officer of the RDC, becomes the Accounting Officer of the NDC. Now that is a violation of the notion of autonomy because there cannot be an imposition from the top to the bottom. Power must evolve from bottom up in a revolutionary way. If people cannot be trusted to raise their taxes and to plan their budgets and to spend their money and to regulate how the subvention...
Incidentally, when I was Minister of Local Government that is when subvention came in, $1 million per year for NDC, and now it has gone up to $3 million. We had said it then that every NDC should be provided a Hymac excavator so that it could have done its own drainage and it could have taken care of regulate the conditions of their own environment and their own existence. Part of the corruption of the NDCs, local government, is that these petty contracts are all regulated by the region and give to cronies and the services are not delivered to the people at the bottom. The drains are not cleaned; the garbage is not collected, because the autonomy of the local government body, the smallest unit, is not guaranteed. It is trampled upon. I was Minister of Local Government for one year and if I was not removed I would have fixed it because I am a grass-root revolutionary. I bought the power to the local government system. It is not like you, the Members over there. I can stand here very proud of that record, in one year. When they saw that I was becoming a grass-root man all over they said I was getting too popular. [Interruption from the Government Members.]
Mr. Speaker: Okay. One second Mr. Nagamootoo. Mr. Neendkumar, let us take it easy. We have one more Bill to go. I would like us to get there, Mr. Nagamootoo, as quickly as possible.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Much more could be said...
Mr. Speaker: I know.
Mr. Nagamootoo: ... but this is not the time. All I ask, on behalf of the Alliance For Change (AFC), is that if we are sincere about local government reforms and that we are sincere that there will be local government elections soon, under these reforms, then we do not bring back the barnacles of the past to haunt the future. The Minister’s role to hire and fire is inconsistent with the notion of a modern local government system. If this Act seeks to address that issue, then so be it. We shall vote for it solemnly from this side of the House. [Applause]
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