Municipalities need a shake up

Stabroek News
July 6, 2000

Next month will be the sixth anniversary of the 1994 Local Government elections which saw the six municipalities and neighbourhood democratic councils (NDCs) choosing their leaders.

Fresh polls were due to be held in 1997 but the collision with general elections preparations put paid to that. They should have been held in the following year but the political unrest that flowed from the general elections and the state of relations between the two main parties made this impossible.

In August of last year the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 1999 was approved extending the date for the staging of these polls to within 12 months of December 31, 1999.

With the premium now being placed on arrangements for general elections it is not practicable for the local government version to be held this year though there may be some tantalising arguments for it serving as a dry run for the bigger event especially if the due date of January 17, 2001 is infeasible.

Whatever the options, the municipalities and the NDCs would have been in office for six years - double their term - and a year longer than the period usually served by the government. It is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The various councils have become entrenched, members have dropped out or can no longer devote their time to its business, internal disputes are rife, there is diminished accountability, reduced output, a bankruptcy of ideas and public disenchantment with their performance. They need reinvigoration and an injection of new blood and enthusiasm.

While local government elections had not been held for 24 years until they were run off in 1994, a consolidation and nurturing of democracy at the grass roots level requires the periodic testing at the ballot box of the suitability of those who lead these councils. It is unclear at this point what constitutional reform will mean to local government elections but there is a growing consensus that there must be a closer identification between the electors and the elected so that the former can exercise a real preference for the candidate of his/her choice notwithstanding party politics. Reform should curtail parties' ability to decide which candidates end up on the councils. Tighter integration of the three layers of local government must be also a priority. Many other issues pertaining to elections at the local government level and improving the potency of these councils have to be grappled with by the constitution reform movement.

What should concern both the government and the myriad councils at this point is their performance especially if local government elections will not be possible for at least a year. Some alternative arrangement should be instituted in the interval to lift these councils out of the rut they are in. It may be too unwieldy for an interim arrangement to be put in place for the NDCs but it is certainly possible for the six municipalities: Georgetown, Linden, Corriverton, Rose Hall, Anna Regina and New Amsterdam. There is the precedent of the Interim Management Council that ran the city's affairs prior to the 1994 elections and the laudable results that it achieved in a milieu devoid of political confrontation and competition. It would be the perfect solution for some of these municipalities which have been wracked by internal division and poor performance. The Georgetown City Council readily comes to mind and the New Amsterdam and Rose Hall councils have also been riven by bitter disputes and concerns over poor performance.

The possibility of an interim management group for several of these councils in the run up to the next local government elections should be seriously considered by the government in consultation with the political parties. It may spark significant improvements in the way things are done in the councils and set an example for the conduct of their business in the future. Reducing the political conflict level would also do the average citizen much good.

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