Coalition has restored public systems’ functionality-Minister Bulkan

A GINA Feature, May 17, 2016

Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan has stated that meaningful efforts and strides have been made under his ministry, but acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve the services offered to citizens.

Speaking with the Government Information Agency (GINA) on the challenges and achievements of the Ministry over the past year, and the objectives set for the next year, the Minister rationalised the move to establish the Ministry of Communities.

One year ago

 A year ago, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government, amalgamated four sectors; local government, regional development, and housing and water into the Ministry of Communities. Minister Bulkan recalled that it was a signal to the “citizens that the focus of the administration would be on addressing the conditions under which our people live.”

Minister Bulkan noted, the APNU+AFC administration, inherited a “dangerously dysfunctional system of local government. It is no secret that local government election was long overdue…so we had councils in place that had outlived their democratic mandate by almost two decades.”

He also noted that in addition to the non-renewal of the councils, what obtained was a central government that “did not recognise the authority of our local councils nor the role that was prescribed for local government organs as part of public administration.”

He recalled that the central government essentially sought to manage and administer the country from the centre, a move that is in conflict with the country’s constitution. The country was too large, as well, to be effectively managed from the centre.

Minister Bulkan recalled that the coalition came into government with a ‘fundamentally diametrically opposed’ approach to local government than its predecessor.  “When in opposition, we outlined clearly that our constitutional provisions in relation to local democracy, local government and the role of local democratic organs must be respected,” Minister Bulkan noted.

He observed that at its core, the APNU+AFC administration subscribed to those constitutional provisions, which provide for “decentralisation of authority, as well as devolution of power”. That is the programme that the administration has sought to pursue from the beginning of its assumption to office.

One year later

 Reflecting on the work of the administration, through his Ministry, one year after assuming office, Minister Bulkan noted that the administration has “restored functionality to the country’s system of public administration, allowing for the effective discharge of the role and the authority of the local government organs.”

The first step in this ‘repair’ process was to ensure the renewal of lives of the local government councils. He noted that this was done by way of the Local Government Elections, which was held on March 18, and which resulted in new councils coming into being with ‘new blood, vitality and energy.”

The expertise that may be lacking among this new core of councillors is where the responsibility of the Ministry comes in, Minister Bulkan explained. This includes providing meaningful support as part of equipping and empowering these new councils to properly enable them to discharge on their responsibilities. He said that the Ministry has quite an aggressive programme of support for the new councils, with a very active programme to provide specific training as it relates to managing and developing  communities.

Therefore, a key aspect of the ministry’s work was to clearly identify the local government organs, (regional, municipal and neighbourhood), that they are the ones which have the constitutional authority to manage and develop their areas.

The ministry’s role is merely to be able to identify the gaps, the weaknesses, and the challenges that are inherent within these organs, and provide the support. Minister Bulkan explained that this is the programme the Ministry is now actively engaged in.

The Ministry also began work on setting-up the autonomous body that will provide oversight for these new councils. Minister Bulkan recalled that the legislation for the Local Government Commission came into being late in 2013, but the body’s operationalisation required a commencement order which was not given, up until the end of the last Parliament.

The Communities Minister inherited this undertaking, and subsequently provided funding for the Commission’s start-up in the 2016 budget. He explained that the ministry will soon wrap-up the last stage of the process and the commission could become operational by next month.

The Local Government Commission, a constitutional body, will have eight members. It will also be responsible for regulation and staffing, and will oversee, investigate and examine the actions of the councils as stated in the Local Government Commission Act.

Empowerment of the local government organs has also seen focus on the regional and municipal officials. Minister Bulkan recalled that that regional officials were specifically asked by President David Granger to create Plans of Action for Regional Developments (PARDs) for their respective regions. The Minister noted that the Ministry of Communities has played a leading role in supporting the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) which have stepped forward to provide the technical and financial resources in the creation of those plans.

He explained that Region Ten has completed its plan and that the “quite ambitious document” is being reviewed by government to determine “how much of it will be adopted and within what timeframe.”

He also pointed out that funding was allocated in the 2016 budget for two other RDCs to complete their PARDs, before the end of the year.

With regards the municipal councils, Minister Bulkan revealed that five of the town councils have already completed their action plan, with the support of the Ministry, working in conjunction with the Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) project.

He explained that as a result of the lack of political will “to allow our local councils to have that responsibility, for managing their respective areas,” those plans were never operationalised.

What the Ministry and CARILED did was to retrieve those plans, and revise them. Minister Bulkan explained that now that the new councils have come into being “they are in the process of doing their own review of these plans because they are the ones who have to take ownership and execute these plans.”

Going forward

Looking forward to the next 12 months, Minister Bulkan said in going forward, there is no room for complacency, and that “we have to try and learn from the mistakes that would have been made in the first year.”

He added that now that “we would have had a firm understanding, and a better working relationship, between and among the new personnel and these new local government organs, I think that our work in the next year ahead would be equally challenging, but I have no doubt that it will be equally rewarding and satisfying,” he said.

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