MUNICIPAL AND DISTRICT COUNCILS (AMENDMENT) 2012 – Bill No. 9/2012
Mr. Bulkan: Mr. Speaker I consider it a distinct honour and a pleasure to be able to make my contribution on the Bill before us - Bill No. 19 of 2012 standing in the name of the Hon. Minister of local government - and to be part of what indeed is a historic occasion which takes us one step further in a process that has been in the making for, depending on how you look at it, at least twelve years, as my colleague said. Like the previous speakers I also would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Members of the Special Select Committee who have worked on these four bills; to thank as well the Parliament staff for the diligent work they have done and also the Parliamentary Council from the Attorney General’s Chambers.
I note that the Minister has been exceedingly brief in his presentation a short while ago but, as I said, I think we owe a duty to the population to offer a little meat on the bones. This Bill like the others has its origin in the recognition of the need for overhaul of the local government system. It has as its underpinning provisions of our Constitution and these being Article 9 where sovereignty resides, Article 12 which stipulates that local government to be an integral part of the organisation of the state, Article 71 and more particularly the chapter relating to local democracy which is Chapter 7.
I regret because of the special circumstances that we are in, where we are trying proceed with dispatch on these four Bills, to move on to the other order of business, having lost the opportunity to speak on the Fiscal Transfers Bill. There are a few comments I would like to make. In fact, if you would allow me, I would like to make reference to the question you had posed to the Hon. Minister Whittaker, with regards to revenue garnered from the ten administrative regions and what mechanism there is for, in a structured manner, any of it to be redirected to those regions. If we look at the particular Article of the Constitution that the two Ministers spoke about, which is Article 77 A, it says, Parliament should, by law, provide for the formulation for the allocation of resources. But it has to be read in conjunction with Article 77, which says:
“... the development programme of each region shall be integrated into the national development plans,..”
Indeed, the Constitution does provide for the allocation of resources to RDCs and not as the Minister says, only to NDCs and Municipalities.
The Bill before us contains some significant amendments and if we look at it, in section two, it includes in its definition an insertion or substitution of the Local Government Commission and that is the Bill that will...
Mr. Speaker: One second Hon. Member, I am sorry that I have to do this to you, but it is becoming exceptionally hot and humid. So I am going to ask the Clerk to consider opening some of the windows because it is becoming intolerable. If we are to stay here for at least another hour or more we are going to have to open the windows after several years. I am told now that two of the compressors maybe down. I think we may have to do that. There may be some slight disturbance. Proceed please.
Mr. Bulkan: Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was saying that in section two of the Bill, there is a substitution of the Local Government Commission and that is the Bill that will soon be before us. If we look at that Bill, which is Bill 13 of 2012, we will see that the Commission will have powers to deal with all matters relating to the regulation and staffing, including the hiring and firing of all Local Government organs; it says that in clause 13(1) of that Bill. In clause 13 (2), ... [Interruption] In clause 13(2) it says that the Commission should deal with all matters ... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Bulkan?
Mr. Bulkan: Sorry. Mr. Speaker, in section two of the Bill it refers to the Commission and it is a significant inclusion in the Bill. In clause 13 (5), of the Local Government Commission Bill, it says:
“In the discharge of its functions the Commission shall have regard to the provision of ...
Firstly, the Municipal and District Councils Act, that is Chapter 28:01, which is the Bill before us. It also states in Chapter 28:02, which is the Local Government Act; Chapter 28:09, the Local Democratic Organs Act; as well as Chapter 29:01, the Amerindian Act.
In the discharge of its functions, the Commission shall have regard to those laws that I have just read. It is explicit enough that what we will have in the Local Government Commission will be a non-partisan body that will now be responsible for the hiring, as well as firing, of Local Government Personnel and this will be in the Municipalities, the NDCs, as well as the RDCs.
Mr. Speaker, if you will allow me to use an example – a current example – because it is quite relevant and it is what obtains in the Georgetown City Council. In the legislation governing the municipalities, Chapter 28:01and the Act that is being amended, if we look at the officers of the Council, there is the Town Clerk and the Treasurer. If we look at section four, which deals with the Town Clerk, which is a very topical issue because there was a press conference that the Ministers had yesterday dealing with the very Georgetown Town Clerk. We see that the functions of the Town Clerk are spelt out clearly in section 74.
If we go to the sixth Schedule of Chapter 28:01, which is the duties and functions of the Town Clerk, it is outlined here clearly. It has from Articles 1 to Articles 11.
Everywhere in the legislation, if we look, we can see for example, in Article 5, it speaks of directions being given to the Town Clerk by the Council. In fact, almost all of the 11 Articles in Part One of this Schedule, we can find that the Town Clerk is supposed to take advice, guidance and directions from the Council. It is the same for the Treasurer. The duties that are assigned to them, as outlined in the legislation, are supposed to emanate from the Council.
In section 79 of the Principle Act, spells out what are the emoluments and the other terms of service of the Local Government officers. It states that these should be determined by the Council in which they are serving. It goes on to say that a Council may assign duties to a Local Government officer in its service and that such a Local Government officer shall faithfully perform and discharge all such duties.
The current situation that we have which allows for a Minister to appoint key officers to a Local Democratic Organ will cease when this Act comes into being. This dual centre of power, where persons appointed by the Minister and accountable to the Minister and not to the Council and which has led to the undermining of the effectiveness and authority of democratically elected Councils, will soon be a thing of the past.
The Commission, this non- partisan body will have responsibility, as I said, to deal with matters relating to the staffing of Local Government Organs. So authority should be put back in local authorities. No more will we have a situation where we have excessive or oppressive control by Central Government.
There are other significant insertions in the Bill. In section 2(A) it states what the objects of a Municipality are. It outlines, as well, what the purposes of the Municipality are. In (a) it says it is to provide good governance; in (b) it says to provide services, facilities or other things that in the opinion of the Council are necessary or desirable for the whole or part of the Municipality; and in (c), its obligations and responsibilities to develop and maintain safe and viable communities.
No longer are these functions implicit, they are explicitly stated in the Bill. Even though we all understand what is the raison d’etre for a local democratic organ.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) welcomes the bold and unequivocal stating of these objects and functions of the municipalities. These in fact go to the heart of our core beliefs.
In page three as well of the Bill, in section 8(a), it equally articulates what are the duties of a Councillor and it stated there; there is no need for me to read that. What these duties and expectations are of Councillors, save and except to repeat what I just said, which is, that APNU, unreservedly endorses each and every one of these sub-clauses in the Bill. There are things such as the concept of the common welfare, which speaks of active and committed participation, confidentiality and trying to raise the level of civic consciousness of residents and this is very important. There are too much apathy in too many Local Government Organs and far too much across the length and breadth of our country. It speaks of professionalism, competence, et cetera.
Permit me to say that the candidates the APNU will feel and support in the soon to be held elections will be persons possessing these qualities.
In clause 81(a) of the Bill shows that additional powers are granted to the Minister. However, what those powers have to do are with pensions and gratuities and like allowances to Local Government officers on their retirement.
It will be noted that clause 157 of the legislation is now deleted. What the clause speaks of is the requirement of the Council to submit to the Minister, for his approval, estimates of income and expenditure for the next financial year.
Clause 158 of the legislation is now being deleted from the Bill. What that clause speaks of is the Minister’s right to approve or disapprove those budgets. It is quite laudable and it is in keeping with the requirement for autonomy.
In clause 206(2) of the Bill and we are almost to the end of it, there is a deletion and it is a very important one. Clause 206(2) makes provision for a Council’s ability to levy rates. The two sections that are now being deleted are where it requires the approval of the Minister. Once again it is very laudable that these provisions are in the Bill, as brought by the Minister.
There are other amendments as well that are stated in the Explanatory Memorandum and the Minister has already read them so there is no need for me to quote from them.
In closing, I will say that this Bill was the least problematic or contentious of the four Bills before the Select Committee and like the Minister has said. On behalf of the APNU, I would like to commend this Bill to the House and to urge Members to grant it unanimous support. [Applause]