House passes Local Authorities Amendment Bill

Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan

THE Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill No. 9 of 2018 was on Monday night passed following a marathon debate by parliamentarians representing both the government and opposition sides of the House.

The Bill was passed with only the government’s proposed amendments. The government did not deem the amendments by the opposition necessary and therefore used its majority to defeat them. Both sides of the House submitted amendments to the Clerk of the House on Monday, prompting the Speaker to indicate that the submissions were late. As a result of the parliamentary rule which states that notice of amendment must be given in sufficient time to enable members of the House to consider same, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland suggested the suspension of rules regarding the time to receive amendments to be considered on the same day of Parliament.

People’s Progressive Party (PPP) members, Zulfikar Mustapha, and Ganga Persaud’s amendments were received at 12:00 noon on Monday while Minister Bulkan’s amendments were received earlier. Dr. Scotland in his deliberation considered a ruling by former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran made during the 9th Parliament as it relates to making amendments to bills and motions in the House. According to Ramkarran, simple amendments which require little or no time for consideration by members, or for which there is no objection, will be accepted if delivered to the Clerk one hour before the convening of the National Assembly.

However, amendments which require some study by members or which is likely to generate discussion, disagreement or debate must be delivered to the Clerk before 10:00am on the day on which the debate is to take place. Additionally, the former speaker noted that substantial or complex amendments must be delivered to the Clerk before 10:00am on the day before the debate is to take place in the National Assembly.
On that note, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan, under whose name the Bill was read, indicated that sufficient time was not provided to the government to meaningfully address the proposed amendments by the opposition.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

“It cannot be done in a rush!” he exclaimed, while noting that the government sees no need to adopt any of the amendments made by the opposition. “We have looked at it and considered it…[and] see no need to adopt any of the amendments by the opposition,” said Bulkan who stressed that they are satisfied with the amendments proffered by the government. “We are satisfied, as I have said,” the minister said as members of the opposition briefly protested his statements.

Bulkan’s amendments as circulated on Monday, point to a change in Clause 2 (b) of the Bill, in Section 12 (1) being substituted, in paragraph (c) immediately before the words “Mayor and” insert the words “Councillors.” Similarly, Clause 2 (e)’s amendment required that the introductory word of Section 33 be substituted for the word “city” instead of “town”.

Attempts were made by Opposition Member Anil Nandlall to bring to the attention of the speaker the fact that there are about six court matters relating to local governance pending. But the speaker indicated that an oral presentation by the member was not the appropriate way to bring matters that may be sub-judice to the speaker’s attention.

Meanwhile, during the debates, Bulkan noted that through the amendments, local democracy is now being given the opportunity to be applied meaningfully. He pointed to the many lacunas which existed since the 1980s. Over time, those loopholes have surfaced. The Communities Minister said his government is fulfilling its political commitment to the people by ensuring that the people of Guyana are served through local democracy. “Our political commitment stands in stark contradiction to the PPP’s infamous track record in local government elections,” he said.

Bulkan noted that the Bill must be seen in a broad context which speaks to restoring functionality to the local government system; a system he said was broken. Pointing to Article 12 of the Constitution of Guyana, the minister said that local governance must be respected. Government has thus invested $3B into the process, Bulkan disclosed.
He told the House that it is by no surprise that varying loopholes are being discovered, and noted that a thorough review of the legislation is critical. Bulkan said too, that following the conduct of the 2016 LGE, the events which unfolded thereafter with respect to actions taken by him and the subsequent actions by the PPP and the court, “highlighted the fact that there is more than one interpretation of what is permissible with respect to the election of mayors, deputy mayors and their representatives.”

Meanwhile, Nandlall acknowledged that given the loopholes, both sides of the political divide must be blamed for the hiatus of LGE. “It is not one side that should be blamed, both sides should be blamed,” he told the House, noting that his party is prepared to support the legislation once there are a set of rules which will ensure that the electorate’s votes are protected.

“We are not afraid of rules and regulations, the more rules there are the better for us. We always govern ourselves and abide by the rules and regulations at election time.
Once there are a set of rules that will ensure that the electorate votes are protected we will support it. Once the system that we have is crafted to deliver integrity and the results cast by the people, we will support it. Against that backdrop, we will support this piece of legislation because we believe it enhances the process,” said Nandlall.

Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira

Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira noted that local government is a fundamental component of Guyana’s democracy; the democratic architecture of the country. She, like her opposition colleagues, said the issue of architecture of the local government system is based on law, the constitution and chided the government for what she considers to be acts which undermine democracy.

“So you can’t have it both ways; you can’t talk about democracy and at the same time, at the level of local democracy you are doing things to undermine that democracy,” said Teixeira.

However, government ministers Basil Williams and Khemraj Ramjattan told the House that the Bill as presented by Minister Bulkan was brought to the house to remove the loopholes which existed prior. Both ministers chided the opposition for accusing the government of sinister plans.

Williams reminded that it was President David Granger who created capital towns, while adding that “we have always been fixing this local government system; we have added capital towns. What is suspicious? We are continuing to fix the system you didn’t fix.” He noted that it is upon request by people in the communities who consulted with the minister of communities that the towns were created. “We will continue to fix local government reform in this country and the people of Guyana will be empowered in their communities and will make decisions for themselves, Mr Speaker,” said Williams.

He made it clear that there is nothing dictatorial in the actions of his administration with respect to local governance. Similarly, Minister Ramjattan found the accusations of sinister intent being levelled against the government by the opposition as surprising. “That is a real slippery ground that is being ambivalent; – they seem not to know where they stand. It seems they want to gain political mileage out of the fact that yes, there were some loopholes and these loopholes have to now be certainly filled.”

Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan

Ramjattan reminded the House that the opposition failed to host LGE for 20 years. “You prorogue it for 20 years and then you come here spouting as if you are the power of virtue in relation to democracy; it is naked political mileage that you want and then at the end of this speech you say we support it,” said Ramjattan, the Minister of Public Security.

The legislation seeks to amend the Municipal and District Councils Act, Local Government Act, Local Authorities (Elections) Act, Local Democratic Organs Act, Local Authorities (Elections) Amendment) Act 1990 and Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2000 in relation to local authorities’ elections. In fact, the amendments will be made to Section 28 of the Local Government Act, Section 20 of the Local Democratic Organs Act, Section 7 of the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Act 1990 and Section 7(1) of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2000, in addition to the Municipal and District Councils Act and the Local Authorities (Elections) Act.