LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMISSION BILL – Bill No. 13/2012
Mr. Bulkan: I rise in relation to the Bill before us, Local Government Commission Bill - Bill No. 13/2012, a Bill that was first read here in this House on 30th July, 2012 and sent immediately to Special Select Committee.
Before I begin, the Minister referred to clause 13 of the original Bill where he dilated at some length, clause 13(2), in which, at the level of the Special Select Committee, the word “oversee” was replaced by the words “responsible for” and in the case of the word “remuneration” to the words “approve of”. It is a very minor change between the word “approve” and the word “oversee”. I think the Minister ought to be aware that, contrary to what he would have said, these minor changes could lead to chaos and disorder. It is hardly likely that the Local Government Commission, which is soon to be implemented and instituted, would result in what the Minister is suggesting.
In the case of clause 13 (1), the Minister has also suggested that there was a significant change to the Bill that was originally laid.
If we look at the appendix 2, the matrix, the change is highlighted in bold. It shows that the only inclusions to the original Bill at clause 13 (1) were the words:
“The Commission shall have power to deal with all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs...”
The amendment at the level of the Select Committee inserted the words “including employment and dismissal of staff”. Then it continues to read:
...in accordance with the original Bill and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs...”
So it was only out of an abundance of caution that the Select Committee felt that given the chaos that was obtaining in local democratic organs across the country whereby the Minister was using powers at the level of central government to interfere with the workings of local democratic organs that that power should no longer reside. As I said, there is very minor change to the Bill that was submitted here to the National Assembly. There are only six words which were inserted and that was for out of an abundance of caution.
This Bill that makes provision for the coming into being of a local government commission arises from article 78A of our Constitution, which was, as the Minister said, a new constitutional provision. Given that the Minister has already read that article of the Constitution, I will not do it again.
When the Joint Task Force which has been referred to earlier addressed that particular article of the Constitution, they determined that the powers of the commission ought to be substantial and nationwide in scope and that it should operate within the following Acts: Chapter 28:09 – Local Democratic Organs Act; Chapter 28:01 – Municipal and District Councils Act; Chapter 28:02 – Local Government Act; Chapter 29:01 – Amerindian Act. This provision is as in the Bill tabled in the House one year ago, save and except that the orders of the legislation have been placed in numerical order, starting with Chapter 28:01 and moving down to Chapter 29:01. The order has been changed.
The Joint Task Force determined that the commission would monitor the activities of local government organs, some of which included the following: the commission will be empowered to monitor the activities of local government organs, some which include staffing matters, appointment of tribunals, disciplinary matters, hiring of personnel, remuneration matters, vacation and other leave, dismissal of personnel, receiving complaints, making rules and regulations and regulating the operations of the local authorities. What is envisaged and proposed is a system that leads to and allows for greater autonomy. You can recall article 75 of the Constitution which mandates that as well as the devolution of powers. The only contentious issue – and the Minister alluded to it a short while ago – was the clause in the Bill that relates to the composition of the commission. Here again, the Task Force recommended an odd number – a seven-member commission, but the Bill that was laid by the Minister a year ago proposed a six-member commission. By itself, it is not a huge problem save and except that when you examine how these six persons would get there under the original provisions of the Bill, what do we see? We see that three persons were to be appointed by the President, of course in his own deliberate judgement, and one would have been appointed by the esteemed Minister. What we would have there, in other words, is a clear Government majority; four members out of six would have been appointed by the Government. The question needs to be asked: where would the independence of actions and the autonomy come from?
Hon. Member Nagamootoo spoke a short while ago. He quoted his father, I believe, where he said, “He who appoints can disappoint.” A national poet, Martin Carter said something similar. He spoke about the mouth being muzzled by the food it eats. For the majority in this House to have agreed to such a proposal would have been to dishonour the new constitutional provision, the one which states that local democratic organs shall be autonomous, particularly given the actions of the Government and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, in particular, since the November, 2011 Elections where many such local democratic organs fell victims to the heavy handed conduct which saw the dissolution following often times spurious calls for inquiries and reports which were never made public. This is why people refer to many of these Interim Management Committee (IMC) as ‘Mysterious Management Councils’; it is because these reports were State secret, never tabled in the public.
At least 13 IMCs were installed last year throughout the country, from Region 1 to Region 10. So for us to have acquiesced to that would have been to voluntarily submit to neutering the authority of this House and that is not what we were sent here to do. That would have led to rule by the minority. This is why there is a different makeup in this House. What we want is for these local democratic organs to breathe freely and that the oversight that they would be subject to should not be suffocating and subject only to ministerial control. These local democratic organs must be empowered, as is required by our Constitution. They must be able to take decisions in the best interest of their respective communities, not of some political party; it is all about local democracy.
I believe the Minister would be glad to be relieved of much of this task. I do not say a burden; I call it a task. The Hon. Minister cannot be happy to see the prevailing conditions in communities across the country. I do not have to elucidate and enunciate what they are, Minister. The overflow of garbage, the stench, the lack of proper drainage and it goes on...
When capable and committed persons are allowed to come to the fore in a system that enjoys autonomy, we will begin to witness a transformation across this country.
I spoke earlier of the mandate with regards to the staffing and regulation of local democratic organs so I need not repeat that.
This Bill brings us to the end of a process which ushers in, as has been identified and articulated, landmark legislation heralded by this suite of Bills. The gestation period has been identified as being long. Permit me, please, to refer just briefly to that, Mr. Speaker. Even if we take the period from December, 2001, when the Joint Task Force was commissioned to now is a period of 140 months. The gestation period, which is the period from fertilisation to birth, we are all aware that in the case of humans it is nine months; in the case of a donkey, it is 12 months; in the case of a goat, it is five months; [inaudible] varies between 16 to 20 months and for an elephant, it is 20 months. So in this period, we could have brought forth 15 cycles of humans, 11 donkeys, 28 goats, and it goes on.
The world has undergone many changes since 1994 which was the last time that we had local government elections. But with regards to the growth of local democracy, we have gone backwards. It has led to the hampering of growth and development of communities throughout our country. There is danger of death by inertia because many of these councils are dysfunctional; many of them could not even muster a quorum. In that same period from 1994 to now, as a country, we have had five Presidents; three of them adorn the walls in front of us. It is unfair that councillors, who have given human service...and many of them are still currently being unfairly maligned because they were elected for a period of three years and it is going on now to 19 years that they are still in place, but it is not their fault that they are there. They were elected with a democratic process and the postponement and non-holding of elections is not their fault.
There were five pieces of legislation emanating from the process of the reform. One of them saw the light into legislation in the last Parliament. Today, we have addressed three of them and this is the final one. The one that came into law had to do with the method of elections. I do not believe the rules will permit me to elaborate on that.
Today, the other four Bills are seeing their conclusion. The whole system has stultified efficiency and it has led to failure and decay. This new system will lead to rebirth and renewal. Embracing local government is to embrace local democracy and it requires a mindset that holds that central government alone cannot, by itself, effectively and efficiently deliver certain public services to citizens and that partnering with lower tiers of administration is the superior way to go.
Finally, it has been said, and I wish to repeat it, that local government reform is an idea which time has long come. It is a philosophy that APNU deeply believes in. Tonight, Members of this House have the opportunity to give true meaning to its role and existence and to be facilitators and not impediments to a process that will lead to the empowerment of people to manage community affairs. Centralisation has not delivered the goods. The solution lies in devolution.
For the old and for the young, I commend this Bill to Members of the House and I trust that it will receive unanimous support. Thank you. [Applause]