Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/20122899 07 Aug, 2013
LOCAL GOVERNMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL 2012 – Bill No. 12/2012
Mr. G. Persaud: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I wish once again to ask that the Bill intituled Local Government (Amendment) Bill of 2012, Bill No. 12 of 2012, standing in my name be read for a second time. Mr. Speaker, this Bill, unlike the two previous Bills proved very challenging for us at the level of the Select Committee. Some of the challenges which confronted us at the level of the committee were generally based on lack of knowledge and understanding of a holistic and a legal framework governing Local Government and also some would have captured ambition of respected members on that Committee.
When this Bill was presented to the Committee, by majority decision, it was decided to include a number of sections that were not in the Bill. That was the first difficulty. We had a number of sections that were brought up outside of the Bill, but were brought up for discussion and amendment; sections such as Sections 12, 13, 14, 43, 82, 83 and 139.3. Having done that the PPP/Civic Members on that Committee sought, at every opportunity, to share information, to sit in discourse and to offer compromises as far as it remains within the legal framework. Our best effort still resulted in disagreement and non-agreement at which the Committee had to vote and, given the composition with a one seat majority on that Committee in favour of the Opposition, the number of sections were carried having been voted upon – section 2.4, 6.1 and .2, 12.1, 13, 14.
What are the implications of these amendments that are presented to us here? I will seek to run through very quickly. Section 2: We sought to include the Local Government Commission into this Bill in an area that does not fit the remit the Local Government (Amendment) Bill. The remit, roles and functions of the Local Government Commission are clearly stated in the Constitution of Guyana yet, for reasons best known to the Members of the Select Committee representing the Opposition they voted for that. The Bill, in clause 4, sought to have the Regional Executive Officer as the Accounting Officer for the Regional Democratic Council, who will ensure that Government transfers from Central Government to the RDC... is channelled to the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils. That was amended and it was replaced by the overseer. The Finance Secretary of this country would not have offered an instrument of an accounting officer to any overseer. That instrument is offered to Regional Executive Officers. We envisage jeopardy with regards to implementing the Fiscal Transfers Bill that we would have just approved.
Then we went into no-man’s land, uncharted domain. We sought to give to the Local Government Commission authority in this act over non-local authority areas in this country. We amended Section 13, which was not up for amendment but we brought it in. We brought it in and amended it and we substituted the Minister with the Commission and it reads that the Commission is granted powers to look at local authority, the 71 of them, as well as geographical areas where there is or there is not a local authority thereof. That is what we did... some did. The majority did that. We have a piece of legislation that we have brought here that seeks to be conflicting with everything else. When we thought that that was the end of jeopardy it continued. Section 14, which was not up we brought in and at the level using the majority we amended and do you know what we have done? We have given the Local Government Commission by this insertion here authority to even remove from office elected officials in the NDCs and municipalities. We have given this which the Constitution has not given to the Commission; 14.2 (b): “for good cause remove from office the Chairman or any member of the Local Authority.” That is the Minister’s authority but that is not the Commission’s Authority to remove elected officials so it means that the will of the electorate does not matter to this Commission. They could take out the elected officials. That is what we gave.
Mr. Speaker: Let me understand you, Hon. Minister. As it stands now the Minister had the power to take out an official?
Mr. G. Persaud: No Sir. The Minister does not have...
Mr. Speaker: But you are saying that a Commission that seeks to do the same goes against the will of the electorate?
Mr. G. Persaud: Mr. Speaker, I always can answer what is in my portfolio and under my purview, unlike my good friend the Hon. Mr. Greenidge. He cannot speak on financial issues and answer. He raves and rants and jumps up. I can answer on Local Authority issues. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Okay, let us hear the Minister.
Mr. G. Persaud: The Minister cannot remove any elected official for wrong doing. That is a decision of the representative of the list. They recall their people. IMC does not remove anybody...
Mr. Speaker: How does an elected council find itself replaced by an Interim Management Committee? What is the process for that?
Mr. G. Persaud: When the Council...
Mr. Speaker: Secondly, recall legislation applies only to this Chamber.
Mr. G. Persaud: Yes, Sir. I am saying that what we are seeking to do here is terribly wrong. It is my duty as Minister of Local Government at this juncture to point out this Hon. House. That these areas I have raise are areas that can cause serious embarrassment to whoever would have to manage and preside over the Local Government System. Mr. Speaker, I urge all of us. All of us, I think, want the same thing in this House. We want that at the end of the day when we would have completed this reform legal framework it will bring greater peace and harmony within the Local Authorities. It will give better clarity to those who have to manage the system, who have to interpret and implement and use the laws and if we knowingly seek to carry chaos into this legal framework I think all of this history will continue to be history but it will be on the negative recordings that we would have sought, particularly with brilliant legal minds in this chamber, of which I am not, seek to overlook basic fundamentals in the principle of law and order so I wish to urge us as we deliberate on this the Local Government (Amendment) Bill that we seek to restore the original proposals on the five sections that I have identified and I repeat them for our benefit: Sections 2.4, Section 6.1 and .2, Section 12.1, Sections 13 and 4. If we can address those issues and we can just allow better judgement to prevail then I think we will end up with a piece of the legislation here that will be compatible with all the other pieces of legislation that we would have had and we would have done local government management justice. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mr. G. Persaud (replying): Let me commend all of the persons who would have shared their views and opinions on the Bill under discourse.
I guess, because we are dealing with four Bills, that it is human to make mistakes. Maybe it is for that reason that the Hon. Member Mr. Mosses Nagamootoo got a bit confused in dealing with the appointment of staffing and the Minister seeking to retain such powers to appoint staffing. Lest he is speaking to the cameras and not to the legislation, because I have not found that anywhere in any of the sections that I have identified here, sections 2(4), 6(1) and (2), 12(1) 13 and 14, in which it states that the Minister is seeking to retain power to appoint any staff. I think that is a human error and it reminds us of our imperfection as human beings.
The Constitution clearly states… I do not know as I said, I read as a layman, sorry to burden this House, but I think that maybe we all would have read this thing and we want to be reminded. Article 78(A) on page 56 states:
“Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission, the composition and rules of which empower the commission to deal with as it deems fit, all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs.”
This is what the PPP/ Civic Government and the People’s Progressive Party is seeking to protect. That is all. The legal jargons I do not understand. Forgive my ignorance, Mr. Speaker, but I think I understand clearly that if this is a task assigned to you by law, if I attempt to give you task outside of there then I really want to get rid of you. I want you to fail; I am giving you burden; I am giving you things that are not within your domain.
It may be easy to say that if it offends any other piece of legislation then by whatever it is removed or it is the fancy legal term which I do not understand. Do we really want to take those statements seriously? Do we really want to convey to this nation, this evening, that we are that careless, we are not concerned about what conflict we throw within the legal framework in Local Government and we want to hide under the mirage of reform and applaud ourselves?
I am happy that the Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo admitted that Regional Executive Officers have been in the process since 1980. He identified a role for them. During his stint, one-year very successful stint, as Minister of Local Government and Regional Development he unearthed a number of ills. Unfortunately time did not time did not permit him to really rectify them. I am hoping to work with him to rectify those before my term comes to an end.
Lest this misinformation is communicated out there to this nation, the Government would not have sought, in any way, to impose Minister’s control on everything. I am happy that the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan along with the other Hon. Member Mr. Williams guided us and referred us to the joint task force.
It is just three quick points on the joint task force. One, it was a bipartisan task force with no side having a majority. They were equal. Whatever decisions emanated from that joint task force had to be by direct consensus, people working together for the good of Guyana. What we sought to do in this legislation, and these changes, is to ignore. By having a scaled environment where when you touch on one side it will go down or come up, we use that mechanism to railroad all the nice good consensus work we have been talking about. That is what we have done here. We are proud about it. We are very proud about it, by removing what consensus those people gave to us in sections 2, 6, 13 and 14. It is a statement of fact, whether we like it or not. None of us will hold on to any station or position for life. There comes a time when we will all have to move on. It is what we would have left here that people will judge us by. If we give them confusion, if we give them chaos, out there they will disrespect those of us.
I want to remind all of us here, in this legislation, this draft that came from the joint task force and the work of the Ninth Parliament, that there were over 32 instances in which it is proposing the legislation to remove the word “Minister” and to grant authority to the commission. The Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo, maybe, missed those in his reading, because he asked the question to show where Government would have sought to dilute, so to speak, the powers vested in the present legislation for Ministers.
My good friend, finally, the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan sought histories. He is a good historian. He took us though from 1950 right through, even 1966, and so on. He knew that this thing came in 1940-something, he stated. My god, Mr. Speaker, no one found it necessary or expedient to attempt to even tinker with it or change it. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, reminded us of this change of where these powers came in the 1972. I wish to say to us that whatever we do here we must remember that there is something that is called Chapter 28:09. Local Government is guided by several frameworks.
In closing I wish to urge my Hon. Members to please pay attention to sections 2, 6, 12, 13 and 14 as I recommend that we adopt the amendments proposed by the Hon. Minister Norman Whittaker. I commend this Bill for second reading, taking those amendments on board.
Thank you. [Applause]
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