Maybe we can look back to the history of village administration to comprehend the evolution of local government management.
Its genesis is deeply rooted in the emancipation of slaves, and, to a comparatively smaller extent, East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese – freed indentured laborers who were left to live in squalor; in undrained, disease-ridden, rodent- infested, dwelling places, defecating in open spaces because these newly freed people were systemically undertrained to survive outside of servitude, had no knowledge of how to care for themselves without the socio economic injection of their former masters.
It was the development of poor health conditions, the increased mortality rates, infant death rates and the sustained state of pauperization that forced the British Empire to take action, albeit grudgingly, implementing legislation to reduce impoverishment and contain the spread of disease.
But, even this help was rife with politics, was more an opportunity to extend socioeconomic control over those who were not in the ruling class. Poor Relief Funding was designated a need but it was overseen by politicians and clergy who attributed the plight of the freed men to their impecuniousness, their indolence, even as they acknowledged that there were no jobs for this demographic that lacked the skills and capital to sustain itself. Testimony for funding needs was requested, ironically, from the very plantation owners and clergy; both whom had motive and incentive to continue the economic strangulation of these newly freed people. Sectarian yardsticks were used to determine relief eligibility, forcing many to adopt religion and denomination they had no taste for.
The prejudice of planters, suffering from the loss of the cheap labour also affected the distribution of Poor Relief. Especially because part of Poor Relief required taxing plantations, their recommendations for health needs to the determining bodies were scant, at best and constituted a farce.
It is against this backdrop of strangulation, deprivation, exclusion, that the 1856 and 1892 legislations were passed to give the villagers, the freed men, the opportunity to manage their affairs. These legislations created the rungs to the 1945 and subsequent 1946 Local Government Ordinances. It is, specifically, the 1946 ordinance that defines, in clearer manner, the impact of local government on the daily lives of citizens in urban and rural areas.
Its basis was that local government is democratic and exists for the common good, that services have wide range and great value, that local taxes provide essential services and beneficial amenities. Its foundation was that local government is the people’s business in which they should show pride and invest their interest; that participating in one’s governance is an education in citizenship and that the rights and privileges of citizens carry corresponding duties and responsibilities.
So, it is with this model in mind that we look at the structure of today’s local government and how much it has veered off course since implementation.
But, to do this we must go back to 1970; when the country was post colonial and the political dynamics were the creation of partisan dominance because racial division had become the platform of politics. It was around this time that Village Administration was usurped; transformed into a strategic conduit for villagers to become the purveyors of partisan plans. Racial strife had injected wariness amongst citizens and the perimeters of greater good narrowed to racial preeminence. This was accomplished by the restructuring the local government model into a labyrinth of administrative regions, districts, sub districts, communities; all of which contribute to the devolution of the original intent of Local Government, the empowerment of people to determine their needs through direct participation in their governance. This Ministerial Regional System was the craftsmanship of then People’s National Congress (PNC) under the leadership of Forbes Burnham and this system prevailed for the twenty eight years that the PNC remained in office.
By the time the People’s progressive Party, PPP, took control of the Government in 1992, they came in with vindictive intent, with an apaan jaat agenda and an “ah we pun top mentality” that subverted nationalism and upsized racism with a proliferation that was akin to communal infection and an inculcation of the kind that replaces natural reasoning.
Through all this, the victims of this governance of revenge and imposition were the citizens of Guyana.
In 1994, the PPP called for Local Government Elections, thinking that they would have won and, thereby, control government at both the central and local levels. They didn’t. Hamilton Green, who had, by then, fallen out of favor with the previous administration, the Peoples National Congress, PNC, formed his own Party, Good and Green Guyana and won the Mayoral elections.
To counteract this unexpected outcome, Cheddi Jagan made the now infamous backdoor overture to Green for him to step away from local government when his tenure ended. Green compromised the faith and confidence of his constituents, agreed to share the chair, then reneged on the deal. As punishment, the Central Government under President Cheddi Jagan and every succeeding PPP President thereafter, punished Green by withholding funding from Georgetown, to the peril of its citizens.
The PPP’s willful deprivation of services to Georgetown demonstrated a depraved allegiance to a Bolshevik ideology, as it did to a desire to promote race ahead of national good. The orchestrated lack of funding cost Georgetown twenty two years of oversight that was so ineffective, the city ended up looking like one of its slum counterparts in so many other parts of South America. Hamilton Green, in what could be considered more self than public service, remained in office, neutered and muzzled, stroking his political ego to the detriment of citizens who were left oppressed and the elected officials dueled for political ground that belonged to the people.
Maybe there was a silver lining at the end of this tale of political horror. Hamilton has since secured a spot in the Hall of Infamy for Ineffective Mayors while the electorate have learned that the PPP is a pernicious and nefarious movement that would subvert nationalism for the promotion of partisan authoritarianism; willfully and with full knowledge that its actions would deface its country and blight its people. This has damaged their brand irreparably.
Local Government lost its original purpose to politics in 1970 and its politics to purpose in 1994. Politicians had managed to use this arm governance to subvert the electorate to partisan ideology and racial preeminence – the equivalent to turning the people against themselves through the very means that was established to empower them.
Only the perfidious would call this brilliant.
It was actually very diabolical pupeteering.
By 1997, the proposal for Local Government Elections was all but political fat to toss into political fire. The proposal eventually became Bill N0. 26 of 2007 which sat in Parliament until 2009 undergoing feasibility discussions by a Joint Task Force of political parties, where it was amended and passed. Elections, however, were never held, in spite of all of the passages of bills and amendments and promises by the PPP government to allow the electorate their Constitutional right to elect local officials.
It was frighteningly clear that the PPP was contented with its monopoly through one party rule.
As of now, the existing Local Government model remains a relic of the past forty five years; one that removed the power from communities to a more centralized level of government, for the purpose of political manipulation.
Guyana goes to the polls in March of 2016 to elect their Local Governments, having been denied that right from 1970 to 1994, then from 1994 to March 2016, assuming the elections will be held.
Unless those who are campaigning for office run on a platform of depoliticizing Local Government, debriding the festering wounds of political indoctrination, devolving power to communities, then March 2016 will be just another typical political event in Guyana; where politicians use the power of the polls for political autonomy; for the promotion of race and partisan ideology.
People are weary of government by appointment – the system that was forced upon them since 1970, albeit under the guise of elections, but with ample evidence of gerrymandering, padding of voter lists, and the amendment to proxy voting to favor the ruling PNC under the Burnham Administration.
And when the PPP entered office in 1992, they extended the legal wrongdoings of the electoral process. They brazenly ignored The Local Authorities Elections Amendment Act 1990, Section 7 Act 10 which legislated the holding of Local Government Elections the first Monday of December, every three years. They pretended that the Minister of Local Government had the right to decide if and when Local Government Elections would be held and for years, made a mockery of the peoples’ right to vote by using the Parliament, in which they had the majority, to continuously deny citizens the right to elect their local representatives.
With the Local Government Elections looming, taking government back to the people through Local Governance has to be the clear, unbridled message.
And this can only be accomplished if the existing local administrative model is completely reconstructed…if the Ministry of Communities which is the entity assigned to facilitate this reconstruction devolves leadership to the people and doesn’t present an extension of partisan purpose.
We haven’t heard much of this process of rebuilding yet; much on how it will be done and how residents of communities will be able to participate in their district’s governance, unencumbered by politics.
We haven’t been told how this Ministry of Communities is working with residents to reform the previous process; haven’t seen, at this eleventh hour, what this model that should be free of the ghost of Presidents past would look like, but we remain hopeful …fully aware that the post prorogation elections have injected an awareness of what concerted participation and demanding accountability could do when a frustrated electorate stands up to be counted.
There are still about ninety days left to get to
We remain hopeful.
Guyana: From Slavery to the Present: Vol. 1 Health System
By Ramesh Gampat