Eccles council should not have been dissolved - former members
Councillor appointed as overseer sparked controversy By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
December 6 , 2003

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When the elected 18-member NDC took office in 1994, its councillors included a number of prominent citizens who had high hopes for the development of the villages and areas that fell within the neighbourhood.

Six years later and after scheduled local government elections were not held, Minister within the Local Government Ministry, Clinton Collymore, dissolved the NDC and replaced it with an Interim Management Committee (IMC). The removal of the elected NDC followed an inquiry into the affairs of the council which was conducted over a three-day period by the late permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Edgar Kendall. Based on Kendall's findings and recommendations, the NDC was dissolved and the IMC installed.

There is the view that Collymore acted in "too heavy, a manner" in dissolving the elected council and installing the interim committee.

Poor administration
Two groups contested the 1994 elections for the Eccles Ramsburg NDC. The PPP/C won 11 of the seats and the Concerned Citizens group won seven. The PPP/C group was led by Udhoh Ramnarain and the Concerned Citizens by Lloyd Rose. Ramnarain has migrated and could not be reached in Canada for input into this story.

In a telephone interview former councillor of Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Patrick George, recalled that the council began as one of the best in the region but things began to fall apart because of party politics, poor administration and ignorance of the law. Things came to a head when the council split into factions after one of the councillors was given the position of overseer, contravening Chapter 28:02 of the Laws of Guyana. This issue was a bone of contention. One faction felt that the council was not working in the interest of the neighbourhood and the matter was brought to the attention of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC).

George contended that the NDC chairman broke a number of rules including having the overseer pay his salary from rates and taxes collected by the NDC. He said the overseer received his salary by vouchers, a statement that the Eccles/Ramsburg Neighbourhood office has not denied.

Regional Councillor Desmond Trotman who sat in at the inquiry which led to the dissolution of the council said that the investigation "was wrong" from the start. Trotman does not feel that the entire council needed to be removed. The chairman should have been removed, he said and a new chairman elected from among the councillors. "In actual fact, the problem was not the council. What they needed was to investigate the actions of the chairman," he said. The investigations, Trotman said, was based on concerns of members of the community about the operations of the council which he felt were not valid.

He said that a prominent female member of the community, Dorothy Fraser, had expressed her concern and made some useful recommendations at the inquiry. Those recommendations, which included the election of a new chairman and vice chairman from among the councillors, were not taken on board.

Arguing that the rules were not followed in relation to the dissolution of the council, Trotman said that 12 members of the community should send a petition to the Ministry of Local Government; and the community should have been adequately notified but, as far as he knew, this was not done. A few persons heard through the grapevine and showed up for the inquiry.

Trotman recalled that the NDC "was extremely good and well-run until some members decided to circumvent the law, which prohibits the appointment of a councillor to the post of overseer or any other local government office." He said that the person in question had applied for the job as overseer while still a councillor and his appointment was sanctioned by Collymore in spite of the objections of the majority of the councillors.

When the matter was taken to the RDC, Trotman said he moved a motion for the appointment to be rejected. He said that investigations revealed that in trying to install the councillor as the overseer, a letter of resignation was fabricated to give the impression that he had resigned as a councillor prior to making his application. "This wasn't so. So that matter occupied the attention of the council for a while. It is in that scenario there were serious differences emerging from both [the PPP/C and Concerned Citizens] sides. In spite of the anomalies the ministry endorsed the appointment."

In such a situation, Trotman said that the relations among the councillors began to collapse and the work of the council was neglected. He said that in the meantime, the chairman moved from a "position of high efficiency to one of great inefficiency. The government intervened. The charges were never clear and whatever the charges were, they were not proven. It was in that scenario the government used a heavy hand and removed persons elected by people."

Then NDC councillor and RDC Councillor Laurice Bailey also felt that there was no need to remove the elected council but to investigate the chairman's actions.

Bailey recalled that the citizens group included the late Dereck Whitehead, Peter Fraser, Motielall Dasrat, Charles Hinds, Roy Davis, Rose and herself. She said they were in the minority.

The other group, the PPP/C which contested the elections included the current IMC chairman, Ashoke Kumar.

Bailey said, "you just don't move and replace people who were voted for." She contended that after the elected chairman stopped functioning the vice chairman, too, had ceased to function. She said it was then that Collymore, recognising that there was no one else to fill the gap informed the councillors that the people in the NDC had launched a complaint about the council.

She said if there were complaints the councillors ought to know who had launched them. This information was never given to the councillors, she said. She was one of the councillors who "turned up and fully participated in the inquiry." When the inquiry was completed, she said they were never given copies of the findings and recommendations.

She feels that if the minister was going to dissolve the council he should not have installed former members of the council including Kumar. "From the dissolved council, no one should have been returned. That was not good," she asserted.

The government, she said did not want the functioning faction. "If you check the attendance records, our members were always present," she said.

Like Trotman, she felt that the chairman and some council members should have been investigated and not the entire council. At the time the problems of administration arose, she said that the number of the PPP/C councillors had been reduced to "about four or five persons but we still had persons to make up a quorum. [However] when we made efforts to elect a chairman, all kinds of obstacles were brought in the way."

Collymore's office, she said was not in agreement with fresh elections for a chairman.

She said that the citizens group tried to encourage Kumar to share their point of view but he was "very reluctant to participate because he knew what was coming down." She said that if Kumar was re-appointed then "we (from the Citizens Group) are supposed to be there." The late Whitehead from the Citizens Group was reappointed to the IMC.

Describing the inquiry as a mockery, Bailey said, "we were not given any notice of the allegations that were made in keeping with Chapter 28:02..." At the inquiry, she said there were witnesses for the government who did not understand the issues. She felt they were told what to say. Bailey said that the chairman and vice chairman started to fall back on attending local government and RDC meetings, severing ties with the system of local government, and this made the situation worse.

A source close to the IMC told Stabroek News that prior to the council splitting into factions and before it was dissolved, a number of PPP/C councillors started to drop out.

He said that initially outsiders would not have known that there were two different groups that made up the council because of the way they interacted. At first they appeared as a group of people who genuinely wanted to work in the interest of the community. Then there appeared to be grouses among the PPP/C councillors and the chairman's actions were put to the test when one of the councillors applied for the post of overseer. This started to destroy the council, he said.

The source felt that the PPP/C councillors were selected by the party and were not briefed about what their roles would be. He said they probably expected compensation for their posts and when that did not materialise they became disinterested. The job of a councillor is basically voluntary work with a lot of commitments.

He said it appeared that most of the PPP/C councillors knew nothing or very little about the system of local government or the laws that govern it. He said it was important that persons seeking office on the NDCs, RDCs and the municipalities know the laws. From a layman's point of view, he said that the government of the day should not take part in the local government elections. "Let the people take charge of their communities. The PPP/C councillors went into the elections telling themselves that because they were in government they should have a hold on the NDCs and that also contributed to the downfall of the council."

Asked to comment about what led to the dissolution of the previous council, the IMC Chairman, Kumar said was "it was expedient that the NDC be dissolved." He said that the IMC members were hand-picked by virtue of the work they had achieved in various areas and they had no known political interests.