Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill3711 07 Feb, 2013
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise in relation to the Bill before us, Bill No. 3 of 2013, standing in the name of the Hon. Minister of Local Government and Regional Development; a Bill that seeks the postponement of Local Government Elections yet again. I note that in his remarks a few moments ago the Hon. Minister did say that when he spoke on a similar Bill last year he felt that he would have been speaking on this issue for the last time but, as he said, subsequent events have proven him wrong. The Minister did not choose a moment ago to explain what some of these subsequent events might be but I trust that when the Minister speaks again, at the conclusion of this Bill he will favour us with an explanation, of sorts.
I note as well that the Hon. Minister has said that he does not envisage any difficulty in the deliberations on this Bill and for its passage and I beg to state that I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but there are many issues that need to be ventilated with regards to the necessity and the cause of this Bill here before us. This Bill which seeks the postponement of Local Government Elections yet again, in its explanatory memorandum says:
“This Bill seeks to extend the date on which Local Government Elections may be held.”
I stress and I note the use of the word “may”. Personally, I would have much preferred if the word “will” was used with an escape clause or a clause for extenuating circumstances, but no; what we have is the word “may”. It tells me that the Government and the Minister are seeking, yet again, another blank cheque from this Hon. House to allow them to continue doing what has been going on for the past year which is to ride roughshod over local authorities, local democracy and local democratic organs and, as well, to be going around the country like “headless chickens” dismembering and dissolving duly constituted and elected Local Government and Local Democratic Organs and replacing them with appointed bodies in a handpicked and partisan manner. That gives us an idea of what local democracy means to the Government.
This Bill before us has two characteristics, disdain and disrespect; disdain for this Hon. House and disrespect for the citizens of this country. This Bill which is before us which, as the Hon. Minister said, was laid in this House in January 2013, which seeks for the postponement of elections of Councilors of Local Democratic Organs opens by stating in Paragraph 1:
“It shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st November, 2012.”
I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and I was able to learn the definition and the meaning of the word “deemed” and it tells me that it means that it must be so considered. I alluded a moment ago and I will say again that I look forward to an explanation from the Hon. Minister and perhaps his colleagues as to why more respect could not have been shown to this National Assembly to have brought this request in a timely manner to be able to receive the imprimatur of this Hon. House. I look forward with much interest to that explanation, Mr. Speaker.
What I do know is that while that timely request was not done what we witnessed during the last year was many excursions on the part of the Government, on the part of colleagues of the Hon. Minister and in particular the learned Attorney General with his many excursions to the court seeking to undermine the authority, the independence and the sovereignty of this House.
I come again and I refer to the word that appears in this Bill, the word “deemed”, and I will say that implicit in it, is sought the treating of this House as a rubberstamp. I wish, however, to remind the Hon. Minister and his colleagues that there is a new dispensation in this 10th Parliament and it differs significantly from the 7th, 8th and 9th Parliament where Bills could have routinely been brought here and deemed to have been laid at a much earlier time.
I do know though that the Hon. Minister and his junior, the Hon. Member, Mr. Whittaker, as I have alluded, have been going around the country in 2012 in an active demolition campaign and to which I will return. Much time, energies and state resources were engaged in that campaign and I would have much preferred if those resources and those energies were directed instead to not necessitating this Bill here before us today. In other words, for those energies to have been directed to ensure that the steps and mechanisms that were necessary would have been performed to have allowed for the holding of these long overdue Local Government Elections. We learned an early lesson in life that it is better to do one’s work than to have to explain why it was not done. Of greater importance than that is the disrespect to citizens of this country who are being deprived of their fundamental and constitutional right to elect Councilors to manage community affairs. The results of which are evident to every Guyanese, man, woman and child, wherever they reside. The results constitute a blight and an eyesore.
This Bill informs us that this proposed amendment to the principle act which it seeks is for the 16th year; not 6th but 16th. Again I say that I await with keen anticipation to learn from the Hon. Minister and his colleagues as to the reasons that may have prevented them from honouring the many pledges that they give in this honourable House because I believe that words spoken here represent a solemn undertaking.
I believe that the citizens of this country as well will be paying keen attention to learning what may have been the reasons that prevented the Government from holding those elections. I also believe that the “A-B-C” countries would have an equal interest in learning from the Government. [Mr. Granger: Which “A-B-C” countries?] Thank you, Mr. Leader of the Opposition. I refer to the real “A-B-C” countries and while I know that our continental neighbours and our MERCOSUR allies would have an interest, I do meant the real “A-B-C” countries, Mr. Speaker.
It is important that we remind ourselves of the words that the Hon. Minister and his colleagues have uttered in this Hon. House. I will not go back over the many years and decades that this debate took place in this National Assembly, but rather I will confine myself to the words of the Minister and his colleagues uttered last year. When the Hon. Minister Mr. Ganga Persaud lead off this debate last year in this National Assembly on the second reading, his presentation was short, but it was very informative and it was instructive. I have the words of the Hon. Minister contained here in the debate on the 15th March, 2012- the 4th Sitting, Part 3. This is what the Hon. Minister said:
“Local Government Elections could not take place during the year 2011 because of the constitutional requirement of holding general and regional elections.”
The Hon. Minister went on to say:
“Notwithstanding this delay, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic remains committed to aggressively pursuing the hold of Local Government Elections in order to produce a more effective local administration with a replenishment of the leadership of the NDCs and municipalities under the local government system.”
The Hon. Minister went on to say:
“The ruling party would like to restate the importance of Local Government Elections as is stated in the PPP/C’s Manifesto…”
Which he quoted and he said that those words were to ensure that within one year of the 2011, General Elections and Local Government Elections are held to bring much needed reinvigoration into local government entities.
Finally, the Minister said:
“This, Hon. Members, is a true reflection of the PPP/C’s desire to empower the ordinary people of Guyana and to enhance the promotion of grassroots democracy further.”
Mr. Speaker, those are not my words or words from Members on this side of the House. Those were the words of the Minister; no less a person than the Minister who I know to be an honourable man. I say again that I believe that words spoken in this House constitute a solemn undertaking and whilst indeed those pledges were not kept, even the Bill seeking for the extension of the holding of Local Government Elections was not tabled, as I said, in a timely manner. The Hon. Minister was followed last year by his junior Minister, the Hon. Mr. Norman Whittaker. Again we were treated to an instructive presentation that contained some bold pronouncements. In the very issue of the Hansard that I referred to a moment ago, I will quote what the Hon. Member, Mr. Whittaker, had to say. He said:
“The PPP and the PPP/C Government have always viewed local government reform and the need to have Local Government Elections as important not only for development but also important for the renewal of grassroots democracy in our country. We want to hold Local Government Elections. We want to hold Local Government Elections tonight. We want to hold Local Government Elections so that we can bring much needed reinvigoration into the local government bodies and, by extension, the very communities which fall within the NDCs. For my friends these elections would necessarily facilitate and accelerate transformation and modernization of local communities by, among other things, empowering the citizens to participated in the decision making process.”
The Hon. Member, Mr. Whittaker, said further:
“For us, Local Government forms an integral part of our democracy and we have always been in the forefront of the fight for democracy in this country.”
Finally, on page 623 of the very Hansard the Hon. Minister Whittaker said:
“Sadly we are unable to hold elections, but we stand ready to move the process further.”
Then came the Hon. Minister’s exhortation to us on this side stating that the Guyanese people are watching as they continue to endure. The Hon. Minister did not elaborate or qualify what he meant by endure, but clearly what he meant was the steadily deteriorating conditions resulting from the tired and broken system. The Hon. Minister may wish to correct me when he speaks. The junior Minister was followed by the Hon. Member, Mr. Joseph Hamilton. Like his colleagues, the Hon. Member, Mr. Hamilton, endorsed…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, can we have some quiet, please. There is a chatter that is…
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. …the government’s commitment to the early holding of Local Government Elections and again I quote from the Hansard what the Hon. Member said, I quote from page 630 of the Hansard and he said:
“The government is ready and willing to hold the Local Government Elections.”
He ended by saying that this will be the final time that we come to the National Assembly to ask for an amendment to postpone the holding of Local Government Elections.
I will next outline what exactly unfolded and the nation will be the judge as to who is responsible for these elections not being held in 2012 or if we on this side of the House were in any way responsible for the Government not having honoured either their campaign pledge or the pious declarations or protestations of theirs that I have quoted. Before doing so, however, I have to refer to the contribution of the final government speaker on that night, one year ago, the Hon. Member, Mr. Nadir. Like his colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Hamilton, who spoke before him, the Hon. Member Mr. Nadir, did play a sort of backhanded compliment to me on what was my maiden presentation in this Assembly, but he quickly when on to posit that I was guilty of a lot of shortcoming in terms of how the history was written. That is irrelevant. What is of matter is the substance of his presentation. The Hon. Member Mr. Nadir urged that moving the process forward, and I quote, “has to start among Members on that side of the House” and he was referring to Members on this side of the House – the Opposition, not the Government – and that we need to get to the table. It is right here in the Hansard on page 640. I am not sure what we could have achieved at this table to which we were being invited in the absence of the Bills for the reform of local government being tabled in this 10th Parliament; a table to which we were invited on which there was no cutlery, no dishes and no food. I can recall that it was after 11.00 p.m. that night when the Hon. Member spoke – the Hansard does remind us that it was some time after 11.00 p.m. and perhaps the Hon. Member was tired. Anyway, the Hon. Member further stated in his contribution:
“…but we are prepared [He said] to bring those Bills back right away and let us move forward with them because we are confident that while this National Assembly has a particular makeup further elections will see who is responsible and who has the nations interest at heart first and we can see and we will see massive reversals.”
Those were the bold statements we heard last year from government speakers. We heard the Hon. Minister a short while ago. Those pledges and words were unambiguous and unequivocal. Let us examine their actions subsequent to those words.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to remind this Hon. House of the facts that were necessary for the keeping of those promises. The first step to enable the holding of Local Government Elections is the passage of the four outstanding local government Bills that were tabled in the last Parliament and that were last year resubmitted to this Parliament. Among others, it includes the Bill to bring into being a local government commission which will have responsibility for the oversight of local authorities and local democratic organs. There is, as well, the Bill to allow for fiscal transfers or the release of finances from Central Government to local democratic organs to allow for their autonomy and efficiency as dictated by the new constitutional provisions.
That debate originated in the 7th Parliament. It led to amendments to the Constitution. It led, as most of us would know, to a joint taskforce that was set up in 2001 to the deliberations of that taskforce and to the recommendations of that taskforce. For those Bills to be passed, they first have to be laid in this National Assembly. When did this happen? Two of the Bills, Bills No. 12 and 13 were laid in this House on the 30th July last year. The remaining two, Bills No. 19 and 20 were laid in this Assembly on the 9th August last year and we will recall that that was one day before Parliament went into its annual two-month recess.
The obvious questions are: Why at the end of July and August? Why not in April, May or June? If the Government was sincere about honouring its pledges, … We can recall the words of the Hon. Member Minister Whittaker when he spoke last year as he boldly proclaimed that the his side wanted to hold those elections on that very night in March of last year, but the Bills were tabled one day before this Parliament went into recess last August.
The Minister will be free to say if the Opposition or anyone else for that matter was responsible for preventing them from brining those Bills to this National Assembly in a timely manner.
There are four factors that I can point to that I believe could be linked to the tabling of the Bills on the dates that they were and which leads me to believe that they were not a forethought- they were more of an afterthought. The first of these is that I find it strange that these four Bills were not all tabled together.
In other words, as if it was part of a planned legislative agenda... In this regard, the words of the Leader of the Opposition, when he spoke on the motion debating His Excellency the President’s address on the ceremonial opening of this Tenth Parliament, were instructive. I wish to quote the words of the Leader of the Opposition on that occasion. It is in the very issue of Hansard that I referred to earlier, and it is on page 581. This is what the Leader of the Opposition said:
“The ceremonial opening of Parliament should be more than a spectacular event. It should be an opportunity to present an outline of the priorities, the policies and the programmes and, particularly, the proposed legislation for the new session.”
The Leader of the Opposition went on to say:
“It should embrace, in a serious way, the intentions of these twenty Hon. Ministers of the Cabinet.”
He also said:
“It should inform the nation about the policies which it can expect during the course of the Tenth Parliament. It is a serious document. It is a serious exercise. It is not an exercise in frivolity.”
Clearly, the words of the Leader of the Opposition, which were given freely and genuinely, it would appear, that an advice, were not taken.
The second thing to which I refer is a press conference that the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) held on 5th April, 2012, in which a press statement was issued. In that press conference, the APNU alerted the public to what we termed a chaotic and destructive agenda being prosecuted by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and which included an active campaign, which I alluded to earlier, to dismantle and destroy many local democratic organ that came into being as a result of the last Local Government Elections which were held in 1994. In that press conference, we further called on the Government to halt that particular campaign and instead to recommit themselves to instituting reform of the local government system in keeping with the recommendations of the joint task force set up by then President Jagdeo and the late Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, in 2001 and to hold Local Government Elections without delay.
Thirdly, there was another press conference help by APNU on 13th July, 2012, some thirteen weeks later. In that press conference, and its accompanying press statement, we said that we were saddened to report to the public that not only has our call fallen on deaf ears, but the Government has intensified its campaign to trample on the system of local democracy, in general, and local government, in particular. The release went on to state that instead of making visible moves to facilitate the holding of Local Government Elections, the Government callously continued its campaign to dismantle duly elected councils and to replace them with Interim Management Committees (IMCs), largely comprising hand-picked loyalists and ignoring, in the process, even the most basic principle of proportionality.
The Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), which fell victim to the wrecking ball, included Bartica, Cane Field Enterprise, Enfield/New Doe Park, Kilcoy/Chesney, Maida/Tarlogie, Black Bush Polder, Bush Lot/Adventure, Whim/Bloomfield as well as the Corriverton Town Council. Attempts were also made on the communities of Kwakwani and Lethem but those initial attempts were met with strong resistance from the residents there. Sadly, in the end, the brave efforts of the citizens in those communities, who sought to protect their democratic rights, could not match the relentless onslaught to deny them same.
The fourth factor was a meeting held on the 26th June, 2012 between the Leader of the Opposition and His Excellency President Ramotar in which the main agenda item, then, was the question of local government. In that engagement, the Leader of the Opposition addressed, among others, the question of the arbitrary transfers of overseers of NDCs in Region 4, the active campaign of installing IMCs throughout the country, but, most importantly, the need to pass the legislation to allow for Local Government Elections to be held and finally for the holding of those elections.
I cite those factors to suggest that the Government was not being proactive, but rather reactive or responding to the urgings of the Opposition. I believe that it is legitimate to question the sincerity of the pledges of the statements made by the Hon. Members who I referred to earlier.
Whilst all of that was happening, we could see that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development has been very active in 2012 but in pursuance of the wrong agenda.
Mr. Speaker, as I said, whilst the Ministry was active in 2012 it was in pursuance of the wrong agenda. Instead of seeking to empower citizens and communities, this Ministry set about handicapping them by foisting unelected individuals to manage local democratic organs and local authorities in a partisan manner to the extent that it is now a misnomer to speak of local democratic organs as the democratic aspect is being stripped from it.
The unprincipled and undemocratic action of this Ministry has left bitter tastes in the mouths of citizens throughout this country – in Bartica, Lethem, Corriverton, Kwakwani, Port Kaituma, Anna Regina and elsewhere. It has certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth of Mr. Vibert Welch, a Councillor of Number 52 – Number 74 NDC. Mr. Welch was elected to that council in 1994 and served it faithfully for eighteen years. He was summarily dismissed and dumped when the NDC was dissolved in October of last year and an IMC installed. Mr. Welch was not delinquent in attendance or in executing his duties, but without rhyme or reason he was dismissed. I personally appealed to the Hon. Minister to correct what was clearly an injustice but, to date, no positive action has been forthcoming. This is the so-called democratic credentials of this administration. Those were the actions of this administration when it was in charge of the process. Where do we go from here?
I will end on a positive note. I am pleased to report to this honourable House that the Special Select Committee has started its work under the chairmanship of my colleague, the honourable and venerable Member Mr. Basil Williams. Whilst there have been minor hiccups, to date, I am pleased to report that the work of the Special Select Committee under the chairmanship of the Hon. Member Mr. Williams is proceeding smoothly and swiftly. I see no reason why the four Bills, before the House, cannot be completed, given goodwill and sincerity in the Special Select Committee, in four weeks from today. It will then pave the way and we will then have the ability finally to move the process forward. Now that we have the ability to influence the process, this is what we are doing and what we will continue to do. When the work of the Special Select Committee is over and, as I said, I expect that to be within four weeks, the ball will then once again be in the Government’s hands for it to bring those Bills back to this honourable House for their passage.
I say, not to the learned and Hon. Attorney General, but to this National Assembly, that I, like all citizens, long for these elections to be held and urge the Government to respect citizens’ constitutional rights. We can then make a democratic start to arrest and reverse the neglect to which towns and villages have suffered for too long. We do need a renewed and reinvigorated system. Early in 2010, one political leader put it succinctly when he said that there can be no solution without devolution.
I end by restating that this Bill reeks of disdain and disrespect and I say let this be the last time that this Bill comes before this National Assembly.
I thank you. [Applause]
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