“Putting new wine in the same old bottles”; those are the words used by Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert H..O. Corbin, M.P., last Sunday to describe the current fiasco surrounding preparations for Local Government Elections which have not been held for more than a decade.

Last Sunday 21 March, Mr. Corbin appeared on a panel discussion with Chairman of the Alliance for Change (AFC) and member of Parliament, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan and Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) Co-leader, Mr. Rupert Roopnarine on the television programme, “Plain Talk”, moderated by Mr. Christopher Ram and aired on WRHM Channel 7. The trio explained to Mr. Ram their parties’ insistence on the implementation of: Local Government Reforms before Local Government Elections.

Mr. Corbin explained that there was clear direction by the constitutional commission back in 2001 that the Local Government system should be reformed and the Guyana Constitution was specifically amended by the Parliament to ensure that this was done.

The Leader of the Opposition told the panel that a Task Force (the Local Government Task Force) was established, which visited every Region, and made recommendations in a comprehensive report, after consultations to determine the wishes of the people. The Task Force was even criticized for taking many moons to get its work completed.

Legislation was drafted that ought to have reflected the recommendations of that Task Force, however, there has been a deliberate attempt by the PPP/C Administration to frustrate any progress in the implementation of the reforms as recommended. He added that all the Administration has done is move ahead with the new reformed electoral laws.

Mr. Corbin believes that this is a “miniscule part of the process whereby the councils are permitted to be elected under a new system”. He said that this approach, however, is nothing short of putting the new wine in the same old bottles. He calls it a waste of time after postponing the Election for so many years, noting that the PPP/C via the same Local Government Minister will continue to have total control over Local Government bodies making local democracy a farce. Mr. Corbin is adamant that “it would be rather dangerous to accept any compromise to allow Local Government Elections to proceed when the system has not been reformed”.

He recalled the precedent of 2001, where similar undertakings were given with respect to the General and Regional Elections but, which never materialised.
Mr. Corbin emphasised to Sunday’s “Plain Talk” panel that “the People’s National Congress Reform is fully mobilised and ready for any local government elections” but, he reiterated that the issue is not readiness or preparedness for the Elections, but, implementation of agreed constitutional reforms.

Mr. Corbin stated that co-operation with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) must not be seen as acquiescence to going ahead with Elections before reform; it was in keeping with an agreement signed by all parliamentary parties, the Government and GECOM in the presence of donor countries in 2007 with respect to new house-to-house registration for a new voters list. Under that agreement all the political parties committed to co-operation with the Elections Commission to ensure there could have been registration and Elections within the shortest possible time. It was naturally expected that parallel with that operation, all the legislation to implement reform would have been passed and implemented.
Additionally, the Leader of the Opposition noted that the Local Government Commission Bill that was passed through the National Assembly falls short of the recommendations made by the Task Force.
All that has happened is the transferring of powers from the Minister to the President.

Mr. Corbin added that it will be left to the people of Guyana to enforce the views of the electorate in terms of what they wanted for a new Local Government system. He said that the matter may have to be challenged for its constitutionality in court, and in the court of public opinion. The PNCR will, however, struggle to ensure that reforms are implemented before Local Government Elections since it is very evident, from the railroading of the Commission Bill through Parliament, that Government has no intention to facilitate the devolution of power to the people.

Last week Mr. Robert Corbin wrote to the Elections Commission raising the Party’s serious concerns as well as the concerns of all the other Opposition parties and several stakeholders that GECOM is continuing its preparation for the holding of Local Government Elections without the implementation of Local Government reform as required by Chapter Seven of the Constitution.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana
Tuesday 23 March 2010