Civil society, Western missions call again for local gov’t polls

[] – Civil society organisations and western missions today again urged that all political parties work together for the staging of local government elections by August 1 this year.

These elections have not been held since 1994 and have been repeatedly deferred. New local government bills have been passed and Parliament recently approved a bill to pave the way for elections by August 1, 2014. However, there have been murmurings from the ruling PPP/C that it is of the view that the Guyana Elections Commission might not be adequately prepared.

The joint statement issued today follows:

A year ago, political party leaders, civil society, private sector representatives, and members of the diplomatic community expressed their hope that 2013 would be the year in which Guyana would move forward to ensure its citizens benefit from strong and effective local governance.

While 2013 passed without local government elections being held, significant progress was made to set the stage for these historic elections in 2014.  Four bills establishing a reinvigorated framework for local governance were approved by the National Assembly and three received Presidential assent.  Together with the 2010 Local Authorities Act establishing the electoral framework for local elections, the legislative path to elections has been cleared.

In anticipation of local government elections, the Guyana Elections Commission has been intensifying its preparations and expanding voter education outreach to familiarize people with the voting process.  The Ministry of Local Government has been hosting seminars and workshops with stakeholders to promote voter education.  GECOM’s Chairman has stated that the Commission is fully equipped and ready to stage the elections.  It has already demarcated the boundaries and constituencies in 69 of 71 districts, and each district has been targeted for voter education.  Once a date for elections is announced, GECOM can begin the statutory steps required by law to hold local government elections.  By all accounts, GECOM is well prepared and poised to ensure free, fair and transparent local elections whenever called upon by the government to do so.

Throughout 2013, all political parties repeatedly expressed their eagerness for local government elections, their desire to make their case to the voters, and their interest in competing in localities throughout the country.  As President Ramotar observed in July, local government elections are “badly needed because many of the problems we face are due to the fact that we did not have local government elections.”  The PPP/C, APNU, and the AFC have all begun campaigning in many regions in anticipation of these historic elections.

All of this augurs well for 2014 as the year of local government elections.  Indeed, as the Guyana Times observed last July, “there is a dire need for local government elections to give citizens the opportunity to choose whom they wish to represent them at the local level.”  As international development agencies have long recognized, the tangible benefits of local democracy go far beyond the act of casting a vote.  Effective and efficient public administration coupled with healthy local governance can drive development efforts.  Local government institutions bring government closer to the people, fostering greater inclusion, civic responsibility, empowerment and participation.  We agree with the Times that “only when people have transparent and accountable institutions at all levels of government – national, regional, and local, will they have confidence in their future.”

The constitution affirms that “local government is a vital aspect of democracy” that should allow as many people as possible to participate actively “in the task of managing and developing the communities in which they live, and it mandates that local elections be held every three years. The Commonwealth Charter to which Guyana subscribes refers to an individual’s “inalienable right to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which he or she lives. Parliaments and representative local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.”

So now, the legislative foundation is in place for elections by August 1.  The election machinery is ready.  The political parties have reaffirmed their desire to hold local elections and are making campaign preparations.  It is therefore our hope, as the PPP/C, APNU, and AFC pledged in their 2011 election manifestos, that local government elections will be held, “bringing much needed reinvigoration into local government entities.”  That is something all parties and civic stakeholders should agree on in 2014.

Berbice Chamber of Commerce

British High Commission

Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry

Embassy of the United States of America

Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Guyana Association of Women Lawyers

Guyana Bar Association

Guyana Manufacturing and Service Association

Guyana Trades Union Congress

High Commission of Canada

Justice Institute

Private Sector Commission

Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.