Overlapping in government, local authority services highest in Guyana - survey
Stabroek News
June 30, 2002

Related Links: Articles on the Caribbean
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Central governments in seven Caribbean territories provide 80.3% of all social services as opposed to local authorities, with the St Lucia government recording the highest level of input with 90.1%.

These trends were revealed in a recent survey, which also polled Jamaica with 64.6% as recording the lowest level of central government provision of such services and with the highest level of local authority managed services at 39%.

The document, prepared on the findings of a questionnaire submitted to the seven states prior to the commencement of the Caribbean Conference on Decentralization and Local Government in the Caribbean, which was held in Guyana last week, also noted significant instances of overlapping and/or duplication of services by central government and local authorities in the territories.

According to the survey, in Guyana there are 25 instances where this overlapping or duplication occurs and this is the highest recorded of the seven countries polled, with Dominica having 19, neighbouring Suriname ten, Jamaica nine and St Lucia seven.

Local government bodies, while agreeing that they could provide a substantial number of services currently being done by central government, cited human and financial factors as inhibiting such a role. Several of these functions now being run by central government include licensing in relation to shops, pets, vehicles and boats, maintenance works on roads, bridges and abattoirs, library, fire and rescue services, building control and the provision of temporary facilities for certain vulnerable groups like the homeless. Other services which local authorities indicated they could provide include public transportation, registration of electors, vaccination and immunization and development of by-laws.

Four of six of the respondents to the poll, Guyana, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname stated that while their local authorities have the potential to provide several of the services mentioned, financial constraints incapacitated them. In the local situation there is an inadequate revenue collection base while in St Lucia central government totally finances all local government operations.

Jamaica and Belize on the other hand indicated that their local authorities could fund several of the services currently undertaken by central government.

Human resources

The lack of requisite human resources to effectively manage the provision of these services was also listed as a constraint by local authorities. St Lucia suggested that the necessary skills could be acquired from central government, while Guyana recommended an ongoing scheme of training to be developed after recruiting the necessary staff.

Belize, however, stated that its local authority body currently has the skills to manage the provision of these services, while Jamaica said that the requisite management skills were available but it was still necessary to recruit staff to carry out the daily functions.

On the issue of revenue, three of the countries - Guyana, Belize and Jamaica - pointed out that financing for local authorities derives from local and external sources. Among the local sources are taxes by way of property, sales, alcohol and garbage collection. They also gain revenue through user and benefit charges which include fees for cemeteries, playgrounds and parks, markets, day care, parking, abattoirs, building plans and licensing and penalties, under which are included motor vehicle licences, parking, business licences and penalties for breach of by-laws.

Local authorities in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and St Lucia, with the exception of Castries Village Council, were said to depend entirely on central government funding and not engage in revenue collection.

Of those countries which garner local government revenue, Guyana was said to obtain 90% of its fees from property taxes and market fees; Belize obtained 45% of its revenue from property taxes and Jamaica’s collection of property taxes and licence fees for motor vehicles amounted to 47.5%.

Revenue sources

All seven countries polled admitted that local revenue sources could be improved and suggested as remedies, compulsory property tax deductions, an acceleration of legal proceedings for recovery of rates and taxes, the decentralization of certain powers and authority of central government and giving local authorities scope to manage the collection of revenue.

External revenue sources particularly by way of inter-governmental transfers (subventions), or allocations from their budget, generally contribute to the finances of all local government bodies of the countries surveyed.

The territories polled realized varying degrees of transfers, ranging from 100% as in the case of St Vincent to 80% in Dominica, 20% in Belize and five per cent here. Grants, it was said, constitute the most significant part of these revenues.

The survey also questioned the level of gender representation in local government and Jamaica at 65% registered the highest level of females employed at senior levels in the system.

St Lucia was also polled as having a significant percentage of females in its local authority bodies either as chairpersons or chief executive officers/administrators in which category it recorded the highest level at 70%.

The questionnaire also dealt with the issue of methods of disseminating information to citizens with the most popular employed being press releases, media appearances and public meetings. In Belize and Dominica the preferred method was said to be used weekly while locally this was noted to be quarterly as opposed to Jamaica, St Vincent, Suriname and St Lucia where preferred methods were used in an ad hoc manner as often as required.

On the issue of citizens’ participation, all of the countries polled had differing ways through which they connected with them or facilitated their contribution to the local government arena. (Oscar P. Clarke)