Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Bill No. 12/20123378 07 Aug, 2013
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members. I rise in relation to the Bill before us, Bill No. 12 of 2012, Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012. This Bill was first read on the 30th July of last year. It is a Bill to amend the Local Government Act - it says that in its title - that is Chapter 28:02. The context of this Bill, Mr. Speaker, lies in Article 75 of our Constitution. Article 75 says:
"Parliament shall provide that local democratic organs shall be autonomous and take decisions which are binding upon their agencies and institutions and upon their communities and citizens of their areas."
That Article is an amendment to the Constitution arising from the Constitutional Reform Process that came into being in 2001. The similar article originally read that Parliament may provide for local democratic organs to take decisions and in the original article it did not have the word 'autonomous'. That was introduced as a new provision in 2001.
For the benefit of myself and if there is any other Member of my House, I would remind myself as to the meaning of autonomy. Its meaning is having the freedom to govern itself, and it is either of a country or a region, or control its own affairs. It is having the freedom to act independently. That is what the new constitutional provision that came into being in 2001 mandated. The joint task force that my colleague, Hon. Member Mr. Williams spoke about earlier, when they looked at that new Article of the Constitution they made recommendations that had to do with the introduction of the concept of autonomy. The main things that they identified was to look at it vis-à-vis the functions of the proposed Local Government Commission whereby the role of Central Government, in their words, should be restricted to policy formulation, the establishment of standards for delivery of services and the undertaking of infrastructural works. That is the background or mandate, if you will, Mr. Speaker, to this Bill.
What is the government's interpretation? If we look at the explanatory memorandum at the back it tells us what is the aim and purpose of the Bill and it says, firstly, that the main thrust of this Bill is to include the Neighbourhood Democratic Council in the Local Government System for all purposes. Secondly, that the Bill makes some consequential amendments an increases penalties in a number of areas. Thirdly, it gives the Minister of Legal Affairs the power to prescribe, by order, fees payable for any process, including the process of parate execution. It is stated there in the clauses of the Bill and I will come back to that. However, the principle legislation which should have been the subject of reform and which is the substance of this Bill actually came into being in 1945; that is some 68 years ago. Much can be said of that time, but I will keep it short and I would just mention a few brief things: It was a colonial inheritance; it was a relic of a bygone era. It is archaic in many respects, the legislation. It is a legislation that is out of place in a modern democratic society. In fact, some of the articles and provisions are deliberately offensive. It places excessive or imperial powers in the hands of one official. I submit that it is inconsistent with Articles 71 and 78 (b) of our Constitution as well as Article 9 and Article 12.
We cannot speak about local democracy, which is what Local Government is about, and keep those powers intact. I noted that the Minister just pleaded for us to restore some of the sections. The very articles that the Minister spoke about are the ones I would like to give as an example of an anomaly and inconsistency with our Constitution; the very Articles 13 and 14 that the Minister spoke about. In fact, when we look at the legislation, Article 13 says, in its current form:
"The Minister shall have and may exercise in any village or country district any or all of the powers of a local authority, whenever it appears to the Minister expedient to do so, [it goes on to say] may exercise any or all of those powers in any of those districts whether there is a local authority thereof."
Article 14, and the Minister... [Interruption] No "...a local authority thereof." That is the end of Article 13; whether there is or not. Article 14 is a little more expansive and detailed but it also gives sweeping powers to the Minister and when we look at the Bill which was brought by the Minister do we see any suggestions to reduce those powers? No, we do not, Mr. Speaker. The original provisions are to leave those sections intact. The Minister must retain those imperial powers. I repeat that it is inconsistent with the concept of democracy and a democratic ethos. It is contrary to the spirit of our Constitution so, for example, if the Minister or the Government chooses, and you alluded to this, then the residents of Rose Hall or of Bartica, Port Kaituma, Lethem, Kwakwani, Enmore or Corriverton can be deprived of choosing their own councillors to manage community affairs. In all of those areas we currently have what is called Interim - some call it 'Mysterious' - Management Councils. Called ‘Mysterious Management Councils’ because their provenance is very mysterious.
Members alluded to, however, at page 5 of Appendix 2 of the Matrix of the Report that there are two insertions where the Minister is replaced by the Local Government Commission - this nonpartisan body that will soon come into being. However, it is to be noted that when the Minister read out Section 13 what he did not point out was that in the amendment being proposed it stops where it reads "expedient to do so" and the part which the Minister alluded to which says "may exercise any or all of those powers in any of those districts, whether there is or is not a local authority thereof" is to be taken out of the new legislation so that the Commission will not have authority or jurisdiction over an area where one does not have existing and in place a local authority. I noted, however, as I said, that the Minister is imploring to this House to restore those powers. We certainly do not agree with that. In fact, I do not believe that voters of local authorities would take too kindly when they are reminded of the Minister's desires to retain those orders when the campaign begins shortly.
As if that is not enough violence to the concept of local democracy, let us examine the proposal in the Bill at Section 2 on page 3. It seeks in the Bill as brought by the Minister a year ago to delete the definition of a district commission, a post which no longer exists. However, it now seeks to insert REOs into this act. This act, 28:02, regulates, as we all are aware, NDCs. An REO is an appointment under the Local Democratic Organs Act, which is chapter 28:09. Why would we want to import and impose the REO onto NDCs? The Minister used the word 'chaos' a short while ago. I think that that is appropriate to describe what we have been seeking to do if we were seeking to impose REOs on the NDCs. NDCs have overseers. Citizens are aware that REOs are currently being used by the Minister to sideline and miniaturise the authority of RDCs so instead of autonomy that the Constitution specifies and requires, what we have here as my colleague from the AFC would describe is the concept of “control-freakism”. Of course this imposition of seeking to impose the REO was rejected by the Committee.
To return to the explanatory memorandum, it can be seen that when the Government was presented with the opportunity to overhaul this act which was mandated to be done as part of the reform process, this act which came into being almost 70 years ago, the Government is not interested. We saw the three clauses in the explanatory memorandum. The Government prefers that we shackle ourselves to a status quo that obtained when we were a colony, tied to Britain at the height of an imperial empire. It would appear that self government which came to this nation in the 1950s, Independence in 1966, becoming a republic in 1970, a new Constitution in 1980, in the 21st Century all have little meaning or no relevance. We are saying that one person must have unlimited powers.
The modern concept accepts that empowering citizens to manage the affairs of the communities is the superior way to go; that Local Government rather than Central Government is more capable of providing services in a more representative manner to citizens. Our comprehensive national development strategy articulates that, accepts that notion, our Constitution demands it. It is against those comments that the majority Members of the Select Committee, those of us in APNU and in the Alliance For Change are please that we were able and were in a position to remove some of the excessive powers that were inhered previously in the Minister. Fundamental reform will have to await the day when we have a Government that truly believes in local democracy and the Local Government and in autonomy for local democratic organs.
This Bill, which is one in a suit of legislation that is now before us, comes perhaps a decade too late as well as, perhaps, another two weeks, however, on behalf of APNU we are pleased that the time is finally here that this House can vote on this legislation and we are pleased to commend it for the support of this House. Thank you. [Applause]
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