Democratic Renewal: Local Government 2016 Review

GINA, GUYANA, Friday, December 16, 2016

There are three tiers of Government in Guyana; Central, Regional and Local, But, for too long, the country had lost sight of this fact and persons had come to think that there is only one Government; Central Government.

Riding on the premise that, “Our country is too large to be effectively or efficiently managed from the centre,” one of the new strategic objectives of the coalition government, has been the restoration of the other two tiers; local and regional government. The focus has been on enabling and empowering these two tiers to effectively and efficiently deliver on the role that was provided for them in the constitution.

In 2016, the Local Government Election (LGE) became the vehicle through which much of this process begun. The LGE were among some of the key highlights in the Administration’s push for regional and local democratic renewal in 2016, the process however started with the naming and establishing of three new towns.

Three new towns

In 2016, the Government moved ahead with plans to increase the number of Guyanese towns from six to nine. Mabaruma, in Region One, Bartica, in Region Seven, and Lethem, in Region Nine, are the three Hinterland communities that were prepared for and received township status within the year. They joined the six existing towns of Anna Regina, New Amsterdam, Rose Hall, Corriverton, Linden and Georgetown, and with their first Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Town Council, that followed, with the holding of the local government elections, priority began to be given to the remedying of much of the infrastructure deficiencies that were present in all of three communities. Secondly, attention turned to providing governmental services that were not previously available in the communities. The establishment of the new towns was the first tier of local and democracy renewal in 2016.

LGE after 22 years

The second and more important act  in the renewal of local democracy  was effected on March 18, 2016 when, after 19 years after it was due, Local Government Elections were held and citizens headed to the polls to elect their community leaders.

A total of 83 people from political parties and other groups as well as individual candidates contested the elections. The results were; the coalition Government won the municipalities of Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, Bartica, and Lethem and communities such as Rose Hall and Corriverton in Corentyne, Berbice and Anna Regina in Essequibo went to the Opposition. The two parties tied in the Municipality of Mabaruma.

Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, declared the results of the elections as representing a victory for the people of Guyana and not for any political party. He noted that the results of the elections represent an opportunity for the elected officials to serve the residents of their constituency. “As far as the successful coalition candidates are concerned, the elections offer them an opportunity to participate, and to lead in the renewal of the communities and the reversal of the decay that have behest many,” the Communities Minister had said.

New Councils and Councillors

The LGE was the vehicle through which new Mayors and Deputy Mayors were elected by their Town Councils, and new chairpersons and Vice Chairperson, by their Neighborhood Democratic Councils.

In existing Municipalities such Georgetown, as a result, went through a change in its council. The Deputy Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green moved up to the position of mayor as her predecessor Hamilton Greene, retired.

In the newly established Municipalities however, the return of the elections allowed for youths such as 19-year-old Maxine Ann Welch, to enter the political arena as the new Deputy Mayor of Lethem.

The elections also created history, with the elections of new Mayors and Deputy for the new towns. Thirty-five year old Gifford Marshall was elected the first Mayor of the Bartica Town Council with Kamal Persaud being elected Deputy Mayor.

Rebuilding the Communities

The newly elected young Councillors, Mayors and Deputies very quickly took up their posts and have begun to wield their constitutional-invested powers in the best interest of their constituencies. Thus began the task of rehabilitating and repairing the Local Government System, with new ideas and ultimately new approaches, being put as the solutions of old problems.

These include improving the working and living conditions in Municipalities and/ or Neighborhood Democratic Councils; encouraging and supporting local economic activities; improving the delivery of goods and services; promoting healthy social and cultural life; raising the level of awareness of citizens about their community; providing advice and supporting people in their communal activities; maintaining and protecting public property; and protecting and improving local physical surroundings through garbage collection, cleaning of drains and parapets and the maintenance of streets.

Supporting the new Councils

The new councils were supported by the central government through the Ministry of Communities in delivering these tasks through such measures as the provision of the 2016 subvention and subsidies.

The Mayor and City Council of Georgetown, received $300 million to be used to clean the city for the country 50th Independence Anniversary, while Bartica received $16M to address that community’s solid waste management issues.

In addition, to complement these initiatives, the Government sought to ensure the effective management of selected councils, through the provision of training in leadership, good governance, planning, community engagement, and other related areas.

The Ministry of Communities also held regular engagements with the councils to address issues that arose which hindred the councils effectively delivering on their responsibilities to their constituencies. These included issue pertaining to non-cooperation within the council and the revenue base of the councils.

Local Government Commission

The Government also begun working to operationalized the Local Government Commission, which is provided for in the Constitution under article, 78A . Once established, this Commission will deal with as it deems fit, all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government councils and with dispute resolution within and between local government organs, thereby reducing the influence of the Central Government on the councils.

The Commission is set to be operationalised early next year.  Currently, the Government’s nominees for the Local Government Commission are being pre-screened for the job. The Government has already taken steps with the acquisition of a building and office equipment for the Commission.

Strong regions

In keeping with the philosophy that strong regions will lead to a strong nation, the administration also undertook similar intervention with the Regional Democratic Councils in 2016. The administration also continued its undertaking of advancing the preparation of a Plan of Action for Regional Development (PARD) in all of the administrative regions.

In 2015, significant advancement was made on the pilot draft PARD for Region 10, which outlines a development agenda over the next 10 years. The process of preparation involves region-wide consultations with all major stakeholders. In 2016, this process was replicated in two additional administrative regions; namely Regions 4 and 6.

Consistent with regional empowerment, the Government also began working with the regional authority on the roll-out of two other initiatives; these are the renaming of the regions and the creation of regional flags. Consultations, with the public on these two processes are set to begin in each region in early 2017.

Supporting the Citizenry

There was also focus on empowering citizens and other local groups in 2016. In an effort to increase employment opportunities at the community level, the Government initiated the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Initiative.

In 2016, through the Ministry of Communities   $100 million was expended on this project  and it covered investment in community based projects across nine regions in areas such as agriculture, livestock and apiculture, added value products thereof, ICT and tourism. SLED worked by distributing interest-free cash grants to registered groups and associations needing the economic boost to improve their economic enterprises. SLED also worked with non-profit organisations, like the Canadian funded Caribbean Local Economic Development Project (CARILED), to provide training and capacity building to beneficiaries of the grants.

Meanwhile, over 1000 Guyanese across the regions were gainfully employed through the Ministry of Communities under the Community Infrastructure Improvement Project (CIIP), which seeks to improve the aesthetics and preserve and maintain community infrastructure within Neighborhood Democratic Councils and Townships.

The workers who came from the nine Regions; with Region Eight being the exception, were involved in cleaning up their surroundings and maintaining community drainage.

Also under CIIP, focus was placed on the construction bridges, culvert, roads, playgrounds, parks and markets, Sixteen (16) projects valued at in excess of $160M in Regions One, Two, Three, Five, Six, Seven, Nine and Ten were undertaken.

Meanwhile, seventy-five (75) Community Development Councillors (CDCs) benefitted from three, three-day workshops which sought to build their capacity to identify problems affecting adolescents and youths, and to design programmes to address these issues. The participants for these workshops were drawn from Regions Four, Five and Ten.

By: Macaila Santos

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