Minister in the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I would have thought that the matter that is under consideration would have been a very simple and straightforward discourse and we would not have engaged in blame, and seeking to apportion blame, but we would have sought to respond to the feelings of the vast majority of the Guyanese people, that is begging for a reinvigorating of our Local Government structures, and the best way to do that is by having Local Government Elections.
Having sat here and listened to the views that were offered by some Hon. Members, I think I owe it to the people of Guyana to indicate that there is no administrative, legal, financial or institutional impediments that exist for the holding of Local Government Elections; there is none. What exists is the political impediment. I want to indicate my Hon. Colleague, Mr. Norman Whittaker, indicated that in the Ninth Parliament we did not use our majority and our advantage, even though at the level of the Select Committee we had the majority. I would like to remind us that in the Ninth Parliament the PPP/C had 37 seats and the combined Opposition parties only had 29. It was an issue of good faith. It was an issue of good faith.
I have, in my hands, a signed copy of an agreement, by the Government of Guyana, the parliamentary political parties and the Guyana Elections Commission, on the preparation of the new National Register of Registrants by house-to-house registration prior to the holding of Local Government and all future elections, which is dated Thursday, 14th June, 2007. This agreement was signed in the presence of the International Community and the Diplomatic Community; on behalf of the Government was Ms. Gail Teixeira; on behalf of the PPP/C was Mr. Donald Ramotar, who is now President; on behalf of the PNC/Reform - 1 Guyana was Mr. Robert Corbin; on behalf of the Alliance For Change was Mr. Ramjattan; on behalf of the Guyana Action Party/Rise Organise and Rebuild (GAP/ROAR) was Mr. E. Franklin; and there was a signature from the United Force which I do not readily recognise. [Interruption] I did not want to be presumptuous in assuming because the lowest form of wisdom is assuming. I am advised that while I do not make it out that it is Ms. Lowe.
This document came at a particular time in our nation’s history when the cry, which was coming, was for us to have a proper voter’s list. We embarked on a very expensive exercise but it was necessary to satisfy not only the political players, but all stakeholders in Guyana, to ensure that we remove all the encumbrances, all the excuses and all the impediments that may have existed to ensure that we have a clean slate, we could have a proper register, we could have Local Government Elections and that we be able to go forward.
In this agreement, the parties committed themselves to… Listen to what it says at paragraph two.
“All of the above parties agreed that a preliminary list of electors will be extracted from the National Register of Registrants (NRR) for the upcoming Local Government Elections on the basis of which a revised voters’ list and a final voters’ list will be prepared for that election.”
During this time, Sir, there was the active pursuit in building consensus as it relates to having all of the reforms, which were needed, in place. I do not need to go back because some of colleagues have already dealt with this as it relates to the reason why we did not have these elections, but we want to underscore, Sir, and to ensure that the point is made that whilst the PPP/C could go ahead and call for Local Government Elections, we respect good faith negotiation. As a matter of fact, the record will show that there was even a threat or boycott of the 2010 Elections if we had gone ahead. We need to be reminded, as well, that in 2010, in this House ,when the estimates for that year were considered the budgetary allocations for Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to host Local Government Elections was provided for and that is why I indicated there is no financial legal legislative. There is the necessary legislation and we are now hearing that there has to be the other four Bills in place in order for us to have the election and we agreed on that, and because we agreed on that in good faith, even whilst we are having the blame casting and the Government is being castigated, we have not, in the past, gone ahead and say, “Well, we are tired of this, let us have the elections.” We are still waiting to have these Bills come to the House and passed, so that there could be Local Government Elections.
The inter-parliamentary parties dialogue, which took place last year, the Government made an undertaken that we will get these Bills back into the National Assembly as soon as it is practicable. We did so. It took between July and January, I think it was the 16th of this year, before we could have got the Special Select Committee going. In this Tenth Parliament where we are hearing about the new dispensation and the majority, and we have the majority, the Members of that side of the House were demanding that they have the chairmanship as well as the majority on the Special Select Committee. It took us July, August, there was a recess, then we… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, come on, the Member is speaking, you may say misrepresenting, but do not, please, look at another Member of this House and accused him of lying or call him a liar. It is highly unparliamentary.
Bishop Edghill: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the correction, but may I indicate to this honourable House that I am governed by a world view that people often judge others by their standards?
We will want to say today that now that there is a Special Select Committee in place, again, this time the chairmanship is with the parliamentary majority in this new dispensation. They have a majority on that committee and we expect that the same people who are pointing fingers and casting blame and saying that they are responsible that we will be able to see some movements in ensuring that there will be these necessary pieces of legislation completed at the level of the Special Select Committee, come to the House, in which they could be voted upon, and that the people of Guyana would be able to get an opportunity to elect leaders of their choice in the various local authorities.
I have noticed that the Hon. Members who spoke from the Opposition benches, both the Hon. Members Mr. Bulkan and Mr. Morian, carefully avoided discussing the IMC in Linden. They sought to stay clear from the discussion of the IMC in Linden, but they have sought to say that the Hon. Minister is going around the country demolishing elected officials and putting in hand-picked officials. I would like to hear their views on what transpired in Linden when it was the Leader of the Opposition, at that time, who requested an IMC for Linden. That very same model is what is being used in other parts of the country.
I heard the Hon. Member Mr. Morian indicated that he was not aware of why there is not Local Government Elections and he also indicated that he was not aware of the installation of IMCs in Region 10. Well, in Region 10, there are only two areas that have local authorities, Linden and Kwakwani. The Hon. Member is aware that before there could be the installation of an IMC there is a process. You just do not go to the community and call people and say that we are going to have an IMC come and elect people of your choice. There is a process. As a matter of fact, Sir, just last week I was in the Seafield/Tempe area in Region 5 where there are only three counsellors left and when I enquired… Well, what has happened is that some of the persons died, some of the persons have migrated and them not being knowledgeable of all of the persons who would have been placed on the various lists at the time, they indicated that they have exhausted all of the possibilities of extracting from the various lists. There is no more possibility. Elections have taken so long that we are now in this situation.
The people of that community still need to have services render to them. The people of that NDC still need to have their drains clean, their roads fixed, they still need to have their playgrounds maintained and all the other things that will go along with the regular functioning of a local authority, but they do not have the personnel available. In the absence of the agreement on the necessary pieces of legislation that is required to ensure that there will be Local Government Elections, what should the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development do - sit and do nothing? The instance that I have used is just one of the many that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, in responding to the petitions that came from the citizens of those communities, would have responded to and acted in putting in the various IMCs.
I heard the challenge that was given by the Hon. Member Mr. Morian, and he said that he was sounding a warning or putting the PPP/C on notice, but I do not think he listened to the leaders of his political alliance, because I am having before me, Sir, the transcript of a press conference held on the 7th of December by the APNU and I will like to [An Hon. Member (Opposition): You were listening. Listen and learn.] It was last year, Sir, 2012. A reporter asked the distinguished persons, who were at that press conference, why does the Opposition not call an election then? Brigadier (Ret’d) David Granger said: “We cannot call the elections and I do not think that the Government is…” when he was interrupted by Dr. Roopnarine, who said:
“Let me say here that you know we have some outstanding issues in relations to elections that we would like to see resolve before any election is held, including Local Government Elections.”
Mr. Speaker, why I am going to this is because whilst we are hearing today of the four Bills that are at the Special Select Committee level, we are hearing pronouncements by the leadership of the APNU about other issues.
“As you know, in 2011, we had major dissatisfaction with the running of the GECOM secretariat and there are elements in the GECOM secretariat that we will like to see the back of before we engaged on another electoral process, this matter is not before a Special Select Committee.”
I continue reading, Sir.
“There is an issue in relation to national elections about the ad hoc electoral system that we continue to use, although we said in 2001 that we will only use as a one-off for Herdmanston’s elections, it has been with us in 2006, it has been with us in 2011, and we are really quite determine that it should not be with us for the next general elections and so there is a lot of preliminary works that has to be done before elections can be held and I think it would be one and act of extraordinary desperation on the part on the part of Government to call it and as far as the APNU is concern, we have some interest and some measures that we want to see implemented before any elections are called.”
This was not referring to the four Bills which are at the Special Select Committee.
I bring this to our attention to say that we wanted, at one time, a national register that is acceptable to all. We agreed and we did it. The next that we wanted was local government reform. The Government tabled the necessary Bills; they went to Special Select Committees in the Ninth Parliament; they are now at Special Select Committee, again, in the Tenth Parliament, but we are hearing now that apart from the Bills there are other matters that need to be addressed. I stand here this afternoon to say the people of Guyana want to ensure they have the opportunity to elect their local officials at the municipal level and at the district council level and Local Government Elections should be held. All that this Bill, which is before us this afternoon, is seeking to do is to identify that we were unable to keep it within the time frame when there was the last amendment and it is to let us have the extension so that we could be able to hold it now, but we all must work together and ensure that the political impediments, which exist, are now removed so that we will be able to get these elections held.
I would also like to also bring to our attention that I have noticed that the Hon. Member Mr. Morian referred to the statement that was made by the A,B,C and E countries quite recently and as if we are being chided, or we are being cajoled, or coerced into doing something that we want to do. The position of the PPP/C is that we are willing, ready and able to have Local Government Election, at anytime; that is our position.
The ball is now in the court of Mr. Basil Williams and the Special Select Committee, let them meet, let them bring to this honourable House the legislation that would have been completed and worked in the Special Select Committee; let us have the debate; let us have it passed and let us have the elections. We do not need more motions; we do not need other political ramblings. What we need are the representatives of the people put in place in Georgetown, in Linden, in Anna Regina, in Corriverton, Rose Hall and all sixty-five NDCs to look after their garbage, to look after their drainage, to look after their markets and the people. I am sure that all of us in this House are aware that when the people voted in 1994 they never envisaged some of those people who are still governing, some of those bodies, would have been there for that amount of time. It is time for renewal.
Whilst I make this call to all of us in the House to support the Bill, as presented by the Hon. Minister Mr. Ganga Persaud, we must not merely do so as a ritual, but we must do so with a commitment in this House, this afternoon, to remove the political impediments. The PPP/C has ensured it has clear the other impediments, which exist, but we have to now remove the political impediments and that must be said, and that is what must be sounded, and that is what must be made clear to every Guyanese elector: The political impediments that exist for the holding of Local Government Elections must be removed and we need it sooner rather than later.
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. [Applause]