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Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall, recently announced that the Central Government is opposed to increase in rates and taxes in the Local Government Authorities. The announcement suggests the Minister is unaware of his scope and responsibility in the local authorities or is deliberately setting out to undermine the effective functioning of local government.
The Minister has no authority over the day-to-day management of the local government bodies which are constitutionally autonomous and responsible for setting their own rates and taxes. The intent of the local authority is to have the council set their rates and taxes and the minister approves. The minister’s role is to ensure the calculations are correct.
While the Minister has concern, if true, that about 50 percent of rates and taxes are owing to the local government bodies and efforts should be made to increase revenue collection, the Central Government has not been supportive of this. The 23 years the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was in government there was only one local government election which was in 1994.
Successive PPP/C governments have made every effort to delay election, preferring instead to impose Interim Management Committees, particularly in the Neighborhood Democratic Councils and municipalities they had no political control. The government, historically, has never shown respect for grassroot democracy which local government represents. They have always sought to smoother or control this most basic form of citizens engagement in governing-managing- themselves and their communities.
The sincerity of the Minister’s view that efforts should be made to collect outstanding rates and taxes has been one of uncertainty. Local authorities would attest that the major defaulters are Central Government and the business community, particularly those aligned to the government.
The Georgetown Mayor and City Council was in the news recently beseeching big businesses to make payments on their debts. It was even felt that some wanted a change in government at the last election due to the amount of money they owe the City Council who they felt would pursue them had the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change re-elected.
There is also a school of thought the Central Government wants the local authorities, particularly the City Council to fail for political reasons. It is felt the Central Government is betting that a Council financially hamstrung would be unable to deliver proper services and attract the ire of the denizens, who will call for heads to roll. This would create the opportunity for the Central Government to come in as the knight in shining armour and either disband the council or prevent them from executing their core activities. Political mileage will then be sought by impressing upon society, particularly businesses and residents of Georgetown that were it not for the intervention of Central Government services would not have been rendered to the people.
Another school of thought believes this is a campaign strategy by the PPP/C to make ineffective the council thus when Local Government Elections come around the incumbent will either be voted out of office or their numerical strength weakened. The view further holds that this is not about rates and taxes and the councils getting enough revenue to do their work. This view argues that it is something darker and more sinister and it is a pity the denizens will be made pawns in the vicious game for total political control and annihilation of political rivals.
Pity a government that cannot appreciate the fact that opposition, particularly a strong opposition, makes it better. Pity a party and government that see everything as a zero sum game and breathe the air of intolerance for others. Pity a nation that is being governed by such human beings. Pity the society that accepts abuse and mistreatment without reaction.