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In this Viewpoint, I wish to underscore the need for the institutionalisation of a revised system of Decentralised Democracy at the grass-root level to support the aims of the Communique. In a nutshell, it is my view that without the involvement of our people within a decentralised political framework, the outcomes would continue to appear as authoritarian and bureaucratic. An urgent challenge for the ‘Constitution Reform Committee’ and the ‘Bipartisan Committee on Local Government Reform’ is the restructuring of the local government system to enable rural communities to directly elect local leaders who can effectively participate in policy formulation and management of local affairs. The current system of nominating councillors to the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and Neighbourbood Democratic Councils (NDCs) on the basis of Proportional Representation (PR) denies the rural electorate the basic right to directly elect their representatives. There is a strong ‘copper-bottom’ case for citizens to elect their representatives through the system of ‘First Past the Post’ and not PR. This would not only energise local government administration but would also facilitate rigorous accountability. A further area for reform is the restructuring of the local government system to facilitate socio-economic and financial viability of the several units of local government.
The involvement of Civil Society to realise Good Governance was underlined by the Non-Governmental Organisations Forum held during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1999 in South Africa. People participation does not only promote effective and efficient socio-economic development but is now regarded as a hallmark for ‘Good Governance’. In this context, Guyanese should not be denied this right, which has been ‘neglected’ for too long, at the local government level.
The justification for ‘Community-based planning: a way forward for Local Governance’, has been convincingly presented in an article in the “ACP-EU Courier” of November-December 2002, when it stated that:
“One of the key problems is the gap between, on the one hand, westernised, urbanised and ‘modern’ elites, systems and approaches and, on the other, the bulk of the population who are ‘poor’ - especially those who live in rural, often remote areas”.
The article goes on to indicate that:
“One of the big challenges ahead, therefore, is how to link poor people to the resources of the state and other agencies: how to ensure that beneficiaries are able to exercise their rights; that services are appropriate for poor (often rural) people; that these people can assert their democratic right to be represented, to identify their priorities and to influence the way resources are allocated.”
The article suggested three approaches for improving the situation:
Poor people should be actively involved in managing their own development.
A responsive, active and accessible network of local service providers including community-based organisations, the private sector and government should be established.
At the local government level, services should be facilitated and provided effectively and responsively co-ordinated.
The author concludes that, “We need to be strengthening the ‘micro-meso’ link, in such a way that does not just extend state power downstairs but strengthens the voice of the poor people upwards”.
As I was researching the topic of this Viewpoint, I noted a letter captioned “Villages should be brought together at the grass-roots level, by one Ray Williams in the Stabroek News of May 13. In commenting on the ‘Communique’ Williams pointed out that:
“This degree of political vision and practice should also be encouraged at the grass-roots level by bringing members of various villages and communities together, in dealing with issues such as the crime situation in Buxton/Annandale, economic development at the local level, prospects for the joint development of small and medium-size businesses, co-operation in executing joint community projects, along with cultural and inter-faith activities, etc. This will go a long way in fostering social harmony and political co-operation in attempting to find needed solutions to the nation’s problems.”
The history of Local Government Administration prior to the 1980 Constitution, and the knowledge and experience gained by councillors and citizens since then, clearly justify the case for an urgent reform of the current system in Guyana.
(Dr Boodhoo is currently a Management Consultant. He is a former UN Advisor and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.)