Georgetown, Guyana – (July 25, 2019) President David Granger, this morning, said the improvement in citizens’ wellbeing should not become a source of partisan division nor should there be room for partisanship when it comes to the welfare of citizens.

The Head of State was at the time speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2nd National Conference of Local Democratic Organs, which will conclude tomorrow at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre (ACCC). The Conference is a deliberate intervention intended to become a platform for promoting the work of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and Municipalities. It aims to provide a practical basis for them to work together with Central Government to strengthen community development and improve citizens’ quality of life.

This is the second year that the Opposition controlled NDCs, RDCs and Municipalities have boycotted the Conference.

“Cooperation and collaboration will help better deliver these services. People are paramount. This improvement in citizens’ wellbeing therefore should not become a source of partisan division. There should be no room for partisanship when it comes to the welfare of our citizens. We have to work together, across the divides of class, geography, politics and race to bring improvements to our people. It is regrettable that for the second time, that this forum, intended to promote cooperate and coordination for the common good, has become a victim of a partisan boycott. Who gains? The people lose when their officials boycott, whether it is the National Assembly or a forum organised by the Minister of Communities,” the President said.

President Granger noted that local government is aimed at satisfying the basic needs of the people, particularly at the community level and is concerned with ensuring safe, secure and economically sustainable communities. He said that the local democracy is a public good. Local democracy is about bringing governance “…of the people, by the people, for the people” at the community level.

“We are all products of communities –whether those communities are villages, or neighbourhoods or municipalities, we all depend on communities. All of us have emerged from communities. It is the community which has clothed, educated, fed, housed and protected us. The community, as social unit must, be preserved, protected and improved so that it can continue its vital role of socialising present and future generations. Councillors of our local government system therefore, are the custodians of our communities. It is they who must ensure that citizens can enjoy safety, security and economic sustainability in their communities,” he noted.

Local democratic organs

President Granger also said that local democratic organs are vital elements of the system of local government. The Constitution at Article 74 reposes significant responsibilities in local government organs.

It entrusts them with the authority: “…to maintain and protect public property, improve working and living conditions, promote the social and cultural life of the people, raise civil consciousness, preserve law and order, consolidate the rule of law and safeguard the rights of citizens…. Local democratic organs, in order to discharge these responsibilities effectively, must be invested with greater autonomy. No one sitting in Fort Street can run 70 or 80 local democratic organs effectively and efficiently. We have begun the process of enhancing the autonomy of local democratic organs. Ministerial approval is no longer needed for local democratic councils’ budgets, estimates of rates and expenditure and to implement their revenue generating measures. We hope eventually to wean local democratic organs off of financial dependence on central government. Local democratic organs are being empowered, not enfeebled. We have unshackled them from domination and miniaturisation by central government,” the Head of State said.

The President who while in Opposition protested for the holding of Local Government Elections, said that local democratic councils, under his watch, will not be dominated or dictated to. He noted that his administration does not desire to control local authorities but rather seeks to cooperate and collaborate.

Notwithstanding this, President Granger said that the Government is not unaware of the challenges which the local democratic organs face, ranging from resource scarcity- financial, human and technical; leadership constraints and lack of capacity have all hobbled local government organs in the execution of their plans.

“We are responding purposefully to these challenges. The Ministry of Communities under the guidance of Minister Bulkan is implementing a robust, holistic capacity building agenda that goes beyond the provision of training. It is also providing technical support to local authorities. The Ministry has taken steps to standardise and enhance financial accountability. It has increased the stipends for some categories of officials. It is working with you to ensure that the local government system can continue to improve services to residents and to become a catalyst for development. Local government is overcoming the legacy of neglect, political interference and maladministration. We are re-empowering local government through enhanced autonomy, capacity building and through structure cooperation, collaboration and coordination among local democratic organs and especially with regional and national government,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan agreed that local democracy is integral part of the democratic organisation of the State.

“True democracy is at the local level. It is at this level that citizens are afforded the opportunity to directly influence the conditions in which they live in participating in the management of their communities. Strong local governance is essential to fostering the conditions for social cohesion, deepening our democracy and ingraining development that is sustainable in communities countrywide. Our role is to replace the dominant attitude to local government by the former administration and replace it with cooperation and collaboration to ensure that local democratic organs are given the opportunity to deliver effective, efficient and sustainable services. The record will show that the Government has spared no effort to breathe new life in this system,” Minister Bulkan said.

The Minister iterated that the time has come for the local and regional officials to now seek ownership of this process, which the Government has restored and do their best by it.

The Conference is the brainchild of President Granger and is themed, ‘Advancing national development through empowered and innovative Local Democratic Organs in a ‘green’ economy.’

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