Book Review – A Review of David Granger’s Local democracy and regional development

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…Stronger communities for a stronger country

GUYANA’s PRESIDENT, David Granger, is reviving his country’s system of local democracy. He launched a ‘quiet revolution’ that is repositioning local democratic organs to better build economically-robust regions for a strong country.

David Granger’s book, Local democracy and regional development. Stronger communities for a stronger country, is rich resource which provides a valuable understanding of his vision for local democracy, local government and regional development.
The book emphasizes local democracy’s essential role in ensuring a stronger country. It argues a convincing case for leveraging the latent potential of the local government system to drive national development.

Guyana’s government operates at three levels – central, regional and local. President Granger argues that, if development is to permeate throughout the country, there must be cooperation between these three levels. He makes a cogent case for such cooperation and collaboration.

The local government system of Guyana was never intended to be a mere appendage of Central Government. It comprises municipalities, neighbourhood democratic councils and village councils. The President, quite correctly, treats these as sub-divisions of the regional administration system. He calls for cooperation between central, regional and its sub-divisions to make local government truly transformative.

The Guyanese Head of State has begun to reshape the traditional relationship between these three tiers of government. His administration’s policies are replacing the disposition to dominate and subordinate with a willingness to cooperate and collaborate.

The President has established a mechanism for promoting cooperation and collaboration. The mechanism, however, has been shunned by political Opposition which controls the majority of the country’s Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) while other parties control the Central Government and, as a Coalition, held the majority in the National Assembly. It would have been expedient for the collaborative mechanism to be pursued more delicately in light of the high levels of political mistrust.

The mistrust is not totally misplaced. The new forum – the National Conference of Local Democratic Organs – is by no means uncontroversial. Its name is almost identical to the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs which was established under the 1980 Constitution which [at Article 79] provided:

There shall be a National Congress of Local Democratic Organs which shall have the responsibility for representing the interests of local government in Guyana and such other duties and functions as may be assigned to it by the Constitution and any other law.
The ‘Congress’ was criticised in the past as being an instrument to control local government organs and was repealed by the Constitution (Amendment) (No.3) Act of 2000.

The establishment of this new organ, though intended to promote cooperation and collaboration but bearing an almost identical name, was bound to generate suspicion and mistrust. It was likely to be perceived, also, as an indirect means of reintroducing a repealed organ aimed at emasculating Opposition influence over local democratic organs.
Nothing could be further from the truth. David Granger has sounded, consistently, his unwavering support for greater autonomy of local democratic organs. He has said, repeatedly, that he is President of all of Guyana and is prepared to work with all Regions – whether controlled by the Government or Opposition.

David Granger has an unassailable record on local democracy. He restored local elections, refreshingly, after the previous administration failed to conduct them for more than two decades. He had agitated for local government elections while he was Leader of the Opposition, indeed, including through picketing the Office of the President in December 2014. He promptly held local government elections within ten months after becoming President in May 2015.

President Granger, addressing the National Assembly on 12th May 2016, pledged that Guyanese would never again be deprived of their Constitutional right to participate in local government elections. He honoured that pledge by holding local government elections again in 2018. Many who criticised his credentials as a democrat have paid only lip service to local democracy. The previous administration removed thirty-six freely-elected neighbourhood democratic councils and municipalities, arrogantly installing its own nominees as so-called ‘interim management committees’. They refused, adamantly, to hold local government elections for more than two decades.

David Granger inherited a local government system in 2015 which lost its autonomy completely and had become abjectly submissive and subservient to the Central Government. He has pursued policies which empowered local democratic organs and encouraged community-based cooperation and decision-making, thereby weaning them off of excessive dependency on Central Government.

The book reveals President Granger’s visionary outlook on local democracy. This, in his eyes, must be seen not only in terms of energizing popular political participation through voting at elections but, also, as facilitating citizen’s involvement in decision-making. Residents should see democracy as a catalyst for “…transforming their neighbourhoods, villages and communities into centres of human interaction.”

The book provides insights into President Granger’s progressive people-centered, rather than impotent process-centered, approach to local government which existed prior to his assumption to the Presidency. Local government, for him must be:
… aimed at satisfying the basic needs of [the] people particularly at the community level. It is concerned with ensuring safe, secure and economically sustainable communities.

The book emphasises the importance of local government as a national, rather than merely a coastal, undertaking. President Granger has pursued policies intended to extend and expand local government and reinforce regional administration in the hinterland.

The President’s programme of regionalisation has witnessed the establishment of capital towns in each of the four town-less hinterland Regions – Mabaruma, in the Barima-Waini; Bartica, in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Mahdia, in the Potaro-Siparuni; and Lethem, in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo – respectively. These capital towns are aimed at “…making each region resourceful, administratively, geographically and infra-structurally integrated, economically robust and demographically populous.” They are integral to strengthening regional development.

The book, Local democracy and regional development. Stronger communities for a stronger country, makes a profound statement about the link between democracy and development. Development must involve and benefit every citizen. Local democracy is the key to ensuring that citizens have a role in making the decisions which affect them and can benefit from those decisions. The book outlines what has been done, thus far, and what still has to be done, to realize the vision of a strong country comprising of strong regions. Local democracy now rests on sturdy pillars.

The steps taken by David Granger in entrenching local democracy over the past five years – and which are subject of this remarkable publication – have laid the foundation for a stronger and more democratic Guyana.

This book represents the ideals of a visionary leader’s efforts at restoring local democracy and re-energizing regional development. Its value transcends Guyana’s territorial boundaries. It is primer for anyone who believes that democratic government should be devolved and that development should be decentralised to extend benefits to everyone, everywhere.