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Local Govt Elections likely in December

Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan delivering his presentation in the National Assembly on Thursday, July 30, 2015,

by Zena Henry

The long-awaited Local Government Elections are expected to held in December, according to Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan.

He made the announcement during his contribution to parliamentary debate on Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2015. The main opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic’s parliamentarians continued their boycott of sittings.

Bulkan said, “The (Guyana Elections) Commission at its next scheduled meeting on 18th August will be expected to make a formal decision to proceed with all the activities for the holding of Local Government Elections.”

The minister said that once such approval is granted, GECOM would be in a position to hold the polls in early December or certainly well before Christmas. Local Government Elections have been last held in 1994.

As the House read and passed the Local Government (Amendment) Bill today, Minister Bulkan addressed earlier claims by the absent Opposition that local polls cannot be held before the first half of 2016. “They have a fear of people being liberated and having control,” the Minister responded. “I am not aware of the realities to which the Article and press release refers… these elections like time, or the tide will wait on no one’ it will not be delayed, it will not be deferred any longer,” he charged.

The Local Government (Amendment) Bill was described as the last piece of legislation to give reform to the existing legislation before citizens’ vote for their local representatives. Bulkan said it has three main features; to include Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) since the existing law pre-dates the establishment of those agencies.

It also caters for the establishment of a Constabulary arm for the NDC and increases fines relevant to specific laws broken. He noted too that it will address drainage of irrigation networks and give the relevant authority power to remove obstructs without delay. “No doubt this will be welcomed by the new to local democratic organs and citizens who suffer from flooding,” he suggested.

Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan in his presentation said that this Bill will “Pave the way for the rebirth and renewal of local democracy.” He said that the Constabulary arm of the NDC, “seeks to diffuse lots more power away from a central level and to also give power as regards to constabulary to the body mainly the NDC for the simple reason that they will know… what it is they have to enforce.”

He pointed to the enforcement of laws within the various communities by the NDC’s law enforcement arm, rather than having central police officers deal with items such as an “illegal” blockade on a dam.

The Fiscal Transfers Act, the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Act, and the Local Government Commission Act was assent to by former President Donald Ramotar last year, but the Local Government (Amendment) Bill was not. It was seen as removing the power of the ministers and bestowed on the local bodies.

The Local Government Reform Bills addresses the existing legislation which the then opposition insisted is relevant to address burning issues before citizens’ head to local polls. Local Government Elections have not been held in more than two decades.