PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday July 31, 2003 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia



SUMMARY:

 PNCR Salutes all Guyana as we celebrate the Anniversary of the Emancipation from Slavery;
 The PNCR calls for the immediate holding of elections for Mayors, Deputy Mayors, Chairman and Vice-Chairman.


FREEDOM DAY:

The PNCR joins with the rest of Guyana in celebrating the 164th anniversary of the end of slavery in our country. This is a significant landmark in the History of Guyana and, more particularly, one for the Afro Guyanese community. On this anniversary we believe that emphasis should be placed on the response of our ancestors to this event rather than the circumstances of the abolition of slavery by the British colonial masters.

The history of Guyana shows that the response of the freed slaves to the end of slavery included:

 The purchase of plantations from their former slave masters.
 Organising themselves into successful agricultural villages and communities
 The rapid expansion of basic education at the community level
 The development of a wide range of micro business and other forms of enterprise

The freed slaves demonstrated very clearly that they were not inferior to their former masters and were able to create vibrant and self-reliant communities. This spirit of community and self-reliance also became part of one social and economic environment as other groups of indentured servants and immigrants became a part of Guyana,

While it is true that the subsequent history of colonial Guyana saw much of this creative spirit and self reliance defeated by prejudice, discrimination, injustice and deliberate damaging policies by the colonial government, the PNCR believes that the spirit which energized the freed slaves with the courage to develop their communities and to engage in self reliant co-operative ventures is still important in 2003.

The PNCR remains convinced that the successful future development of our country depends on a system of governance and national policies which fosters this approach in all communities and cultures in Guyana and removes injustice and discrimination at all levels.

Happy Freedom Day to all Guyanese.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND THE PPP/C’S INEPTITUDE:
In 1994 the PPP/C called local government elections and in so doing sought to implement an element of the local government reform, which was initiated by the PNC in 1980. However, from the very inception, it became clear that the PPP/C had no vision or competence in local government matters and was merely using this system to impose its hegemony on governance. They created Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, some of which were as large as seventeen traditional villages and others as small as one traditional village. They then proceeded to downgrade some areas, which were previously districts, by bringing their operations under the Local Government Act of 1947 when they previously operated under the more advanced and progressive Act, the Municipal and Districts Council Act of 1969. To make matters worse, they implemented a system of subventions to Neighbourhood Democratic Council, which saw all of the councils receiving equal subvention notwithstanding the vast difference in geographic size, infrastructure to be maintained, population size etc. The ineptitude did not stop there. No training was provided for the officials and councilors and for the period 1997, when elections were due, to present, they used their parliamentary majority to stymie the election of new executives to the various councils while the writ challenging the constitutionality of not having elections for Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen and Mayors and Deputy Mayors languishes in the judicial system.

The constitution reform process and the passing of the constitutional amendment, Bill 4 of 2001 provided an opportunity for the PPP/C to charter a new and progressive course for local government. They however persisted in the ways of the past and to date the only action which they have taken is to replace elected councils with hand-picked councils. In doing so they have completely ignored the stakeholders hence further entrenching PPP/C hegemony over the local government system.

This continued rot was potentially rescued when Mr. Hoyte placed local government reform on the agenda of the dialogue. As a result, the reform of the system, which should have been on the Government’s agenda, became the subject of negotiations between Hoyte and Jagdeo and now a matter listed in the recently signed Communiqué for completion within a specific time frame. In the meantime, the provisions for accountability, autonomy, representative ness, widening the revenue base, professionalism, the re-establishment of villages and the objective allocation of state resources to local government bodies have remained on the back burner with no indication that the Government has these matters on its agenda or regard them as matters of urgency.

It should be recalled that this said Government sought to proceed unilaterally with other elements of constitution reform though it is mandated that those processes should be consultative and multilateral. However, in this instance where they can proceed and take the lead there are no silver linings on the horizon. To the contrary, the President having failed to provide leadership on this question and having failed to create an enabling environment for local government, goes public with his squibs and dampers saying that he would be inclined to devolve authority to local bodies if they demonstrate that they have the capacity to exercise such authority. What does the President mean by this statement when the Constitution already mandates that a reform system including devolving of powers should be proceeded with? While this demonstrates the absence of intent, the President’s subsequent statement that he may devolve responsibility for sea defences and other infrastructure to the municipalities and Neighbourhood councils further demonstrates the absence of a vision for, or understanding of local government. Economies of scale and the integrated nature of some infrastructure such as sea defences dictate that their upkeep cannot be undertaken by low level local authorities. At minimum these would have to be the responsibility of the regions and in our circumstances where resources are scarce they may be better taken care of by centrally organized or co-coordinated task forces.

If the President cannot give leadership in these matters, who will?

The PNCR has no alternative other than insisting that the reform process is provided for and proceeded with as a matter of urgency. In instances where delays have been unavoidable, as has been the case with the electoral system for local authorities, the Government should, in consultation with the stakeholders, put interim measures in place to avoid the continued decline of governance at the local government level. One such measure, which the PNCR calls for is the immediate holding of elections for Mayors, Deputy Mayors, Chairman and Vice-Chairman. In instances where councils are defunct or mal-functioning those councils should be reconstituted in consultation with the stakeholders. The Government is challenged to match its words on good governance and democratization with actions.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday July 31, 2003