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While offering little detail, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall said the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) took six months to do what the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) took five years to execute, as he commended the 2021 as pro-poor, pro-business. But APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, Ganesh Mahipaul told the National Assembly said the last six months have been like the budget – disastrous.
“We have a budget that focuses on the poor and we have a budget that also focuses on the businesses because development cannot happen unless we have a pro-poor, pro-business business budget – APNU, cannot understand that philosophy that is why they failed this country,” Minister Dharamlall said as he debated the 2021 Budget in the National Assembly on Thursday.
He said though the Georgetown Mayor and City Council raked in approximately $30B between 2015-2020, the city, according was left to “rot,” but this he said, will not occur under the PPP/C’s watch. He said President Irfaan Ali, shortly after taking office, constituted an inter-ministerial committee aimed at rebuilding Georgetown, and already $100M has been set aside for the restoration of City Hall.
“…We the PPP/C going to do it, something APNU could not do for City Hall,” the Local Government Minister told the House.
Going forward, he said more than 500 roads will be rebuilt in communities across the country, while 70 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) will see greater enhancement. Added to that, he said $70M has been set aside for the Mon Repos Market on the East Coast of Demerara to facilitate expansion works while another $30M has been budgeted to rehabilitate the Parika Market. The market at Charity on the Essequibo Coast will also undergo repairs.
But Dharamlall’s Shadow Minister, Mahipaul, who sits on the opposite side of the House, said $383.1B budget proposed by the PPP/C is another disaster for the Guyanese people.
“Sir, another disaster has once again struck us here in Guyana and it is Budget 2021. Disaster is the word that best describes Budget 2021 because, like Budget 2020 there has been a breach of our constitutional provisions reference article 13 which speaks to consultation…there was consultation with subsets of the PPP, but not with the Political movement that represents hundreds of thousands of electors,” MP Mahipaul told the House.
He said aside from the lack of consultation, the budget fails to address the immediate needs of the Guyanese people arising out of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, while leaving public servants out in the cold with no increase in wages and salaries for a second year.
MP Mahipaul said like everything else, the Local Government and Regional Development Ministry has for the past 6 months fallen from grace with staff subject to political inference and prosecution.
“At no time were REOs subject to the direction of the minister but rather that of the elected council. Sir, at no time were NDC overseers allowed to work against their elected councils. At no time were overseers called by the Minister and instructed to go against the elected councils. The same for Town Clerks, but the country now has two Zeelugt Ministers that are directly interfering with the democracy of this dear land,” the Opposition MP said.
According to him, there continues to be a flagrant violation of the Constitution. The APNU+AFC Parliamentarian explained that while Article 74 (1) of the Constitution states that Local Democratic Organs are autonomous and their decisions are binding upon their agencies and institutions, Minister Dharamlall and his junior Minister, Anand Persaud have been micromanaging the operations of the Municipalities and NDCs.
“The clerks of councils, the REOs, the Town Clerks and overseers are not at your disposal. They are creatures of their respective elected councils. They are to provide guidance and execute the mandate given to them by the council. Stop giving political instructions to these public officers,” MP Mahipaul told the two Local Government Ministers.
According to him, staff within the ministry are operating in fear – in some cases, staff have been sent instructed to proceed on leave while others have had their salaries withheld.
“Staff members’ salaries are being withheld against the labour laws of this country and no communication or correspondence is dispatched to the affected staff members. That is the level that this Ministry has fallen to and the only reason as to why the Permanent Secretary is bowing to the political pressure of the ministers is because she herself is political,” the MP told the House.
He said the Local Government Minister has boasted about significant progress made over the last six months, there records are not so impressive. “Six months into office and Comrade Dharamlall’s major accomplishment was the purchasing of street lights – 80 wattage brightness and cannot go higher than 15 feet for $35 000 apiece. Four months ago, we in this honourable house approved $105M for the SLED initiative. What Sustainable Livelihood Entrepreneurship Development programme was it spend on? Only the good Lord knows! Four months ago, more than $17M was spent on the Georgetown Enhancement Programme but yet we have returned to the garbage city state. The ministry is now requesting over $100M and I bet my last dollar that the state of the city a year from now will be worst,” the Opposition MP said.
Further, he stated that while the National Assembly approved $5M for each of the 70 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, only half was directly disbursed to the NDCs.
“A full dictatorship is now at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. The formation of Regional Tender Boards is perhaps the direct evidence to substantiate the rising of dictatorship and the burial of democracy at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development,” he said.
He added: “Sir, in Regions where the PPP/C enjoys the majority at the RDC councils, tender board members were elected by the Regional Democratic Council but in Regions where they don’t enjoy that majority the members were selected by the PPP/C surrogates. The Procurement Act of 2003 requires that upon request all contracts awarded must be made public. Requests were made months ago but to date no reply. What is it that you are hiding Honourable Dharamlall?”
MP Mahipaul said it would appear that the Local Government Ministry is on a mission to destroy communities and municipalities and destabilize the services available to citizens. In support of his position, he pointed out that six Regional Executive Officers (REOs) were fired for no reason while City Council has been deprived of critical funding and NDCs now micromanaged. Added to that, he said the country has witnessed the dismantling of the annual Mayoral Conference and National Conference of Local Democratic Organs (NCLDO).