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My fellow citizens, based on what I observe in the media and on the streets of Georgetown, the upcoming local government elections (LGE) are at the centre of our attention. I am happy about that; I am pleased and elated by the fact that Guyanese appear to understand that local government is a matter of great importance.
In this article, I will share with you my private and personal thoughts on three questions that I am often asked.
Why is local government important?
What is the role of local government organs; and,
What is the present state of our local government system?
My views on the first question are based on my own observations and common sense, and what is stated in our supreme law: the Constitution.
Guyana is supposed to be a democracy. As such the people must participate maximally in making decisions that affect them. The way to do that is to bring the government closest to the people through a system of local government.
Article 12 of the Constitution recognises the importance of the system; it says, “Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organisation of the State.”
Also, consider how diverse Guyana is. Our diversity includes ethnic, cultural, religious, economic, social, geographic, and political components. Because of this fact, our needs, priorities, and aspirations are different. That being the case, no government can ever effectively and efficiently govern Guyana from the centre; proper governance can be achieved only through a decentralised system. For those reasons. I believe that a system of local government is not only necessary but is indispensable in Guyana.
Regarding the second question, my views are based on the supreme law of Guyana: the Constitution.
Article 75 states, “Parliament shall provide that local democratic organ shall be autonomous and take decisions which are binding upon their agencies and institutions, and upon the communities and citizens of their areas.”
Citizens, the keywords in Article 75 are: autonomous and binding.
Local democratic organs are the elected councils. Article 75 makes clear that those councils are autonomous, that is, they are not arms of central government, and they are not subject to the wishes of central bodies, instead, councils are independent.
Their decisions are binding. In other words, no other authority whatsoever may interfere in the decisions of elected councils.
Onto the third question. I will preface my specific answer, though, by saying that I am not pleased with the present state of Guyana’s local governance. I am of the view that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) regime is using every tool it has to undermine the authority and functions of local government organs.
First, the PPP regime misinterprets the law for its unlawful objectives. Specifically, the regime abuses Article 78 (A) of the Constitution and Section 13 of the Local Government Commission Act.
Article 78 (A) states: “Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission [LGC], 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.”
Section 13 of the Local Government Commission Act iterates and underscores the mandate given to the LGC under Article 78 (A).
Citizens, nowhere in the laws does it state that the LGC has the power to override the binding decisions of the elected councils. Yet, although Article 75 of the Constitution gives autonomy to the elected council, the PPP regime is misusing Article 78 (A) of the Constitution, and Section 13 of the Act to justify making the LGC – which is controlled by the regime – a parallel local government body in Georgetown. This is unlawful.
My position is that if there exists any ambiguity or apparent contradictions in any laws, it is the duty of the Attorney General to ensure that appropriate amendments are proposed and tabled in the National Assembly, after, of course, meaningful consultations with all stakeholders have been completed.
In other words, while it is clear to me that according to the laws, the elected local councils are supreme, it is equally clear that the relevant legislation may be somewhat ambiguous. As such, the Attorney General would be obliged to work towards ensuring clarity.