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US envoy rubbishes govt’s excuse for delaying local elections

United States (US) Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt has dismissed government’s latest excuse for not holding local government elections and he said it was time Guyanese directly elect their representatives at the local level.

“To my mind, it’s a constitutional requirement, it’s a legislative requirement and there is at this point no obstacle to the holding of local government elections so I would just urge government to set a date, move forward as soon as possible and give people that ability to have effective local governance and start to transform the country,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Earlier this month, President Donald Ramotar said his government was gambling on whether to hold long-overdue local government elections this year or call early national elections if blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for Guyana’s failure to pass amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act (AML/CFT) begins to bite hard.

Arguing that the way is clear for local government elections to be held, the American envoy disagreed on waiting on the right time to go to those polls to elect councilors in the six towns and neighbourhood councils.  “This whole kind of circular argument about well the government may want to go to a general election and wants to hold that preserve… Governments will always want to hold that preserve because that’s part of the Westminster system because you can go to an election whenever you want but if that becomes a perpetual excuse for not going to local elections then there is something clearly dysfunctional in the system,” Hardt added.

He suggested that Guyana should consider setting a fixed date for local government elections. Since the last elections were held in 1994, the government and the opposition had been in a long-running battle over the reform of local government elections. Of the four bills approved by the House, only the one that seeks to establish a Local Government Commission has not been assented by President Donald Ramotar on grounds that it will remove executive authority.

The US Ambassador, whose tour-of-duty in Guyana ends next month, expects local government elections to bring back some degree of real representation in a country where the  national electoral system is proportional representation in which parliamentarians are drawn from a list of candidates rather than elected by constituency.

“Because of the list-system you have, you don’t have your MP you can go knock on the door and say ‘hey, I got this problem. I need you to go fix that for me’ and you also have no local governance people can turn to so you have a situation where people somehow feel somehow disconnected and that leads to cynicism and that’s never good for a body politic,” he said.

Hardt hoped that local government elections would be fresh breeding ground for young, talented and energetic politicians. “They want to make a difference in this country and local governance is certainly one way they can do that,” he said.

 He hoped that the Guyanese leader to leave a historic legacy of returning local government elections that would aid economic development and democracy at a time when more persons are realizing the importance of such polls. “The way is really open for President Ramotar to make a historic step forward to be the President that restores elected local governance and I certainly hope that he seizes that opportunity because it will in my mind help to restore the connectedness of people to their government,” added Hardt.

The US, British, Canadian and European diplomatic missions here have more than once in recent months called for the holding of those elections. Outgoing British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre recently deemed the failure to hold the elections unconstitutional and a violation of the Commonwealth Charter. Ayre has also said the current local governance system was a stain on Guyana’s democracy profile.