Stabroek News
February 14, 1998

Decentralisation is, of course, a form of power sharing. It takes its classic form in federations like the United States of America where the individual states that make up the USA like New York and California have their own Governor, their own legislature which passes laws, their own courts, their own budgets and revenue raising capacity and so on. The federal government, based in Washington and headed by a President (now Bill Clinton) runs the country. There is also a House of Representatives and a Senate based in Washington which passes laws for the whole country. This also has a budget and raises revenue to run the country including the army, the ministries, the federal police (FBI) and other national agencies and bodies.

In other words, power is shared between the national government in Washington which runs the country and the governments in the states and their respective powers and revenue raising areas are clearly defined. At a lower level, cities too have their mayors and city councils with their own budgets, police, schools and other duties (and there are even smaller local government entities).

When dialogue really gets going between the two main parties (there have only been two meetings so far) one of the areas that can be discussed is a considerable increase in the powers of our six municipalities namely Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Linden, Rose Hall, Anna Regina and Corriverton and their revenue raising capacities. This would require careful discussion and negotiation as unless the different areas of responsibilities are clearly defined there can be conflict and confusion. In principle some of the areas to be discussed could include roads, drainage, health and education. There is already some overlapping of responsibilities but the opportunity could be taken to decide which body will do what and how it will fit in with what the other is doing.

As for revenue raising, the Interim Management Committee of the Georgetown City Council had put forward some interesting ideas, some of which were later adopted by Mayor Hamilton Green. These could be discussed and expanded.

The object of decentralisation is to give a larger number of people a real stake in the society and how it is run. Problems arise when large sections or groups are totally excluded from real power of any kind. In Guyana today, for example, given present voting patterns the People's National Congress would win the elections in the Georgetown, Linden and New Amsterdam municipalities. If these had considerably increased powers and there were attractive salaries for the mayors and councillors this would amount to a real devolution of power and would go some way to avoid the consequences of the winner take all system at the level of the national government. It is certainly one of the topics that should be included when dialogue gets going.