“Some people want to ride off into the sunset by themselves well leh them guh!… When they come to you… ask them… who will support you? where’s the structure? where the institution? can you speak to the minister of communities if I want a house? can you speak to the minister of public infrastructure if I want to fix my roads? If… ‘no,’ then me nah vote fuh you. I’m voting for people who are well-connected…”
This was President Granger urging constituents to vote for his party’s candidates because they are “well-connected.” Could this be the President’s freudian slip that favourable treatment will be given to those councillors linked to his party? Reflect and itate on that.
Local Government Election 2016 is over, and there is one last order of business before the Georgetown council’s work begins. The
election selection of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. These positions of power and influence are integral in a municipality that is literally the seat of the nation’s political and economic power. Be reminded that the Mayor and their Deputy are merely first and second in a council of equals.
Of course, the APNU AFC won’t have to worry about this since they have already hijacked majority seats on many of the councils in, and out of Georgetown. Frontrunners for the Georgetown Mayor and Deputy Mayor posts are Oscar Clarke and Patricia Chase Greene (veterans of the old decrepit LGE order), and newcomer Sherod Duncan who rode into victory on the backs of government’s big-ticket names and faces thrown around in his campaign. All three persons closely linked to the coalition Government.
The centralisation of power to Georgetown is one thing, but for that power to be further centralised to the same political party in central government, the formula is ripe for collusion, reduced accountability, and a conflict of interest that deprives the people of representation against central government overreach in their communities without their consent. But this creature of Guyana’s political climate, where the lines are thinly drawn between the roles of central and local government (where the former supercedes the latter), is nothing new.
Certainly, for the past 23 years and for most of the PNC years preceding those, local government was simply seen as an arm of central government wherever the parties in power at the local level were the same as those at the national level. Even where they weren’t, the municipalities aside, people thought that if they wanted action on or redress for something at the local level, they should deal with central government – and preferably the head of state if possible.
Mr Bharrat Jagdeo when president certainly helped to undermine any confidence there might have been in the authority of local government by swanning into villages and directing his lieutenants to address this or that problem. He was following in the footsteps of Mr Burnham, of course, who created the template for that particular approach. (Stabroek News Editorial. Local Government and Voters. March 13, 2016.)
I call this phenomenon, The Mahipaul Complex, which the President seems to suffer from. A diseased idea that in order for elected local government authorities to be effective in their work, they must be closely aligned to the political party in central government. The rationale however ignores the fact that any loyalty to a political party instead of constituent voters means that elected councillors could go against those who elected them in the first place, because they feel an obligation to the political party that endorsed their candidacy.
In Guyana, there is no recall legislation for local government councillors like Winston Harding, an alleged child molester, who still managed to win a seat even though the coalition withdrew support from his candidacy days before the polls opened. Constituents will come to realise the damage that can be done in the three-year span of one local government cycle if this flaw is not corrected. Especially when Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence thinks a candidates’s child molestation allegation is a private issue. Sigh.
Bouncing back to the blurred lines where central usurps local government. Even before March 18, the Government had remained true to the order. Senior government officials graced many platforms for their parties’ candidates in Georgetown and Linden making sweeping promises even before the new councils come to be.
Of course, there is no legislation barring large parties from contesting local elections, but the conscionable thing for the APNU AFC and the PPP to do would have been to allow the people a chance to breathe in deciding their local officials, rather than suffocating the electoral process and stifling independent candidates of an opportunity to do well by their community. Then again, the big parties’ candidates did belong to their respective communities in one way or the next, so there is need for dialogue on the way forward in this matter.
Such is the case of the APNU AFC candidate in Buxton who won a seat even though their candidacy was made visible merely a few days before the March 18 election. The candidate didn’t even have to campaign in the village. But, campaigning is irrelevant when you live in a culture where party symbolism speaks to people’s internalised race-based prejudices in a way that would cause them to blindly support a candidate whom they’ve never interacted with. Such is the disease that is The Mahipaul Complex.
Nationally, there is no Local Government Commission. Therefore, central government, through the Communities Minister, has the power to appoint executive members of the Georgetown city administration who govern the day-to-day functioning of the unit. These include the office of Town Clerk, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the city administration and the authority for the capital city’s finances.
The Mayor and City Council make the policy arm of the city administration, with powers to pass directives to some officers in the executive. Central government will control both the policy arm and executive arm of the Georgetown city administration. Or to be more specific, President Granger is set to be symbolically dubbed “His Worship, the Lord Mayor and President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.” Unchallenged on his plans for the city. Whatever that might entail for whomever.
Personally, holding to my voter’s manifesto (a set of ideas I believe should be addressed at the local level by candidates), I would have been spoiling my ballot if any of the demands I made as an elector were brushed over or not alluded to at all. Some ask why I would spoil my ballot. And if I don’t think that is counterproductive. It’s quite the opposite actually.
Spoiling my ballot is a two-coined approach. On one side, it is respect for the electoral process since I would have made my way to the polls in the first place. On the other side, it would have been a rejection of all the candidates presented to me. Of course, a ‘No Confidence’ option is not a universal feature for ballot papers in the democratic world, but spoiling my ballot remains my form of resistance against the system, rather than choosing the lesser of the evils presented to me.
Some choose to stay home from the polls in protest of the candidates. But these actions (staying home or ballot spoiling) are always treated negatively as “Low voter turnout” or “Lack of Voter Education,” simply because it is a tedious task to go door to door to ask constituents whether they stayed home or deliberately spoiled their ballots as a form of protest. I wish for the “No confidence” option on Guyana’s ballot papers.
Nonetheless, I applaud the return of local democracy to the people, although I feel it shouldn’t have taken incentives like a council or mayoral seat to get people to go around their constituency and ground with their community folk. I would hate to be in the position of the one Facebook commentator who was annoyed that he only had two options on his ballot paper- PPP or APNU AFC. And although he voted “half-heartedly”, he said he voted nonetheless. “No Confidence” should have been an option available to this constituent on his ballot paper.
Now that the outcome of the race has set in with many of the independent candidates failing to upset the domination by major parties, as another Stabroek News Editorial would have hoped… this is not the time for those community activists to down their tools and throw in the towels. These young people must be saluted for their tiring work swimming against the tide of major parties whose domination speaks to a generations-old tribalism that was fashioned at the national level, and managed to permeate the local government system way before the last local government election some 22 years ago.
This is the time for community activists to up their game in their constituencies and assume the battle position of civic responsibility to ensure that those elected are held accountable for their actions, and made to follow through with promises and duties to ‘re-present’ the interests of ALL constituents. This is just the beginning. The struggle against the tide of big party dominance is still being fought and will be played out for the next 3 years until the 2019 local election (fingers crossed).
The battle is not as simple as winning the hearts and minds of your constituencies, it is simultaneously a struggle to liberate the people from the disillusionment of loyalty to big party symbols and tribalism spewing from decades of race-voting and the Mahipaul Complex.
With love, liberty, and vybs,