Cooperation for the common good

The 2nd National Conference of Local Democratic Organs marks the progress the country is making in revitalising the local government system. Government as you are aware, operates at the three levels – national, regional and local. These three levels are not exclusive; they are inclusive and interdependent. Effective governance demands that these three levels must work cooperatively for the common good. They are not enemies, there is no civil war and we are not fighting each other. We work together for the good of the Guyanese people.

Local government is aimed at satisfying the basic needs of our people particularly at the community level. It is concerned with ensuring safe, secure and economically sustainable communities.

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.

Local democracy

Local democracy is revitalising our communities and the country. We now have four towns and NDCs in our hinterland. We have had two local government elections within the last three years in office and within ten months of this administration entering office we had the first Local Government Elections in 20 years. We didn’t do this to win. We did that to provide a better quality of life to our citizens. Win, lose or draw, we will continue to have Local Government Elections as mandated by our Constitution.

The Local democracy is a public good. When we speak about public good, we talk about things that you can enjoy but does not deprive someone else of its benefits. Its enjoyment by one does not deprive another of its benefits and it is enjoyed by all. Local democracy is about bringing governance “… of the people, by the people, for the people” at the community level.

Local democracy was restored in its vibrant state in March 2016 after an interruption of more than two decades, a period during which over three dozen NDCs were suspended and replaced by IMCs. It will never happen again under our administration. It was removed again last November at the Local Government Elections. I assure Guyanese that Guyana will never again return to the tyranny of domination by and dependence on central government. That is why we are here today, to ensure that the democracy is enjoyed in the local government system.

The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana at Article 13 mandates the establishment of an inclusionary democracy: “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision- making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision making that directly affected their wellbeing.”

Local democracy is essential for the establishment of an inclusionary democracy. The Constitution at Article 71 (1) instructs further: “Local Government is a vital aspect of democracy and shall be organised so as to involve as many people as possible in the task of managing and developing the communities in which they live.”

The renewal of local democracy over the past three years, therefore, was not accidental. It evinces our commitment to the establishment of an inclusionary democracy in which our citizens will play a greater role in the management of their communities.

Local Government Elections stimulated greater grassroots participation in local democracy. Citizens, including youth, volunteered as candidates for elections as councillors in Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and our municipalities. This became the classroom for politics. Many of them were successfully elected to manage their communities.

Local democracy has restored hope and instilled vitality in our communities, towns and villages. A wave of enthusiasm is sweeping across our land. Local government is boosting community development and invigorating village economies. Local democracy is working, its progress is steady but sure.

Local democratic organs
Local democratic organs are vital elements of our 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. I assented on August 5th, 2015 to the Local Government (Amendment) Act 2015, which had been passed in the 10th Parliament but not assented under the previous Parliament. 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. Local democratic organs are being repositioned to become partners with and not parasites on, Central Government. Local democratic councils, under my watch, will not be dominated or dictated to. My administration does not desire to control local authorities. We are here rather to cooperate and collaborate. We will continue to pursue a non- intrusive approach to local governance, which we started four years ago.

We are extending and expanding local government. Guyana’s hinterland regions: Barima- Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi – encompass an area of 145, 353 kilometres square, an area larger than Greece, comprising more than three-quarters of our land mass. These regions consist of numerous small settlements and is responsible mainly, for the country’s low population density. Our settlements are scattered but our system of Government has to cater to every citizen.

The geographic and demographic challenges of governing these hinterland regions require the creation of new local democratic organs to drive their development and to help reduce inequality between the hinterland and coastland. It is for this reason that we established four new capital towns, one for each of these four hinterland regions. Township status has led to visible improvements.

-Bartica has constructed Guyana’s most picturesque riverside boulevard; it has installed more than 700 street lights as it is in transition to becoming a ‘green’ town; it is developing a green park and rehabilitating the town’s market as part of its drive to become a ‘green’ town.

-Mabaruma has transformed the Kumaka waterfront; building concrete based roads and installing street lights as part of its drive to create a better town.

-Lethem is fast becoming the business hub of the Rupununi. Lethem is upgrading its infrastructure, including drains, roads, bridges and schools.

-Mahdia, Guyana’s newest town, has effected improvements to its internal roads and bridges and is expanding public services as it rebounds from the effects of recent flash floods.

Neighbourhood democratic councils and municipalities across our coastland are at work, improving the state of their communities and bringing benefits to residents. Works on roads, bridges and drains are being undertaken. Recreational facilities are being upgraded. Solid waste management is being improved and street lighting installed. Much more is still to be done and done in an effective and efficient manner.

Challenges and response

Your Government is not unaware of the challenges which you face. 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.

National Conference of Local Democratic Organs
When I first spoke here last year, at the first National Conference for Local Democratic Organs, I expressed the desire that this conference should continue every year. It is not a one-off experience. It is a deliberate intervention intended to become a platform for promoting the work of the NDCs, municipalities and RDCs. It can provide a practical basis for them to work together with Central Government to strengthen community development and improve citizens’ quality of life. Local government organs are required to provide quality and reliable services such as:

-preserving cultural values and propagating customs and mores;
– providing and maintaining bridges, drainage and irrigation structures, roads, security, street- lighting, sanitation, sporting and recreational facilities; and
-promoting education, employment and economic enterprises, including cottage industries and health.

We should aim eventually to have a first-class secondary school in every region so that the children don’t have to leave their regions to come to a first-class secondary school in Georgetown. We have already started to stimulate economic development through the Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition (RACE).

Cooperation and collaboration will help better deliver these services. This National Conference of Local Democratic Organs, as I stated last year, could become an annual forum aimed at establishing itself as a vehicle for delivering improved services to all local communities and their residents.

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 cooperation 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.

We are moving forward. Local democracy has been restored. It has resulted in the economic and social revitalisation our communities. Capital towns are being prepped to become engines of development. Neighbourhoods and villages are enjoying the dividends of local democracy through ever- improving services. Local democratic organs are part of this infectious spirit of revival of local government. They are being re-energised to continue to improve citizens’ lives.

A new era in local democracy has commenced. The role of local government in national development is being amplified. Local government is moving away from being a subordinate element of the body towards one of greater autonomy and authority. Cooperation for the common good is taking place.

I see this conference as part of this cooperation. Its findings and recommendations will be taken seriously to improve your quality of life.

I wish every success to this Conference. Let us continue to move forward. May God bless our Local Government system. I thank you.

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