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Local govt Councils illegal; govt’s focussing on holding elections

by Zena Henry

The legal status of the Neighbourhood, Town and City Councils is being called into question, but the minister responsible for local government and the Mayor of Georgetown have shrugged off those concerns, instead saying that the focus is on holding the long-delayed Local Government Elections (LGE).

Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan says that government is currently putting great emphasis on the holding of the long ignored Local Government Elections and that their main focus is “democratic renewal.” This was his response to arguments challenging the legality of municipal bodies across the country.

It is being argued that since the prorogation and subsequent dissolution of the 10th Parliament, which did not allow for the further extension of the life of local organs, they are operating illegally. Local polls have not been held for more than two decades and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which was the government at the time, says the local organs are illegal and have opted to make legal challenges, particularly to the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC).

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has told Demerara Waves that the life of these agencies-National Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Town Councils-expired in August of 2014. “Logically, it follows that there is no statutory provisions from which these entities can draw legal sustenance.”

The former AG said that the entities are in a legal dilemma. “This is so because Local Government Elections are supposed to be held at periodic intervals (every three years). If it is not held, then an amendment has to be presented permitting the postponement of this election and for the legal life of the entities.”

He said in 2014 when the former Minister had put the Amendment to the House, the life of the entities continued until August of that year. “August has expired,” he said.

Bulkan told Demerara Waves Monday July 13 that, “We are not focused now on administrative matter. We want democratic renewal and that is the holding of Local Government Elections.”  Bulkan said the legality of these bodies, “technically, is subject to the varying interpretations.” Bulkan argued however the number of years that PPP-government had been in power and not held local polls.

He said the new Administration has signaled its intention to hold local polls as soon as possible and that would bring about the democratic renewal of Councils. The Minister said that he has gotten word that the former AG had threatened to take the Georgetown municipality to court over its legality. Bulkan said, “Nandlall is free to take whatever action he wants.”

Chief Citizen Hamilton Green, – who is the longest sitting Mayor in the Western Hemisphere -had the same to say about Nandlall’s move to take City Hall to court. When asked about the legality, Green said that “Nandlall is free to say and do what he wants.” The only other comment he offered was that, “We are trying to save this country that they have destroyed for so many years.”

While there has been no definite word, Minister Bulkan told the nation that the government hopes to have local polls by November this year. It will see the holding of the overdue local elections where citizens will elect their community leaders. An argument has also emerged as to whether the election could be held within the touted time. 

Representatives of the government and top officials of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) recently held talks about holding the polls later this year. GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield says a number of legal gaps would have to be filled before the elections are held.

Commenting on the technical requirements, Mr. Lowenfield was quoted in a GECOM statement as emphasizing the need for the legal issues – a list of which was provided to Minister Bulkan – to be addressed definitively to clear the way for the commencement of the Claims and Objections exercise for Local Government Elections in the first instance, followed by the conduct of the elections.