Was Whittaker articulating government policy?

On March 7, 2014, the Stabroek News carried an article in which Mr Norman Whittaker, Minister in the Ministry of Local Government is reported as asserting that the “vast majority of the populace is not prepared for the holding of local government polls by August 1st” and that “to go ahead would result in the waste of a lot of money.”

Even by the standards of inanity now associated with the “vast majority” of the PPP/C and government spokespersons, Mr Whittaker’s statement is outstanding for its disconnect with the Constitution of Guyana and the laws relating to local government elections. But it may be more than simple ignorance: it shows the little or no regard which PPP/C ministers have for democracy and the drift to autocracy which Guyana has suffered since democracy returned to it in 1992 and the last local government elections were held in 1994.

Even if Mr Whittaker had read only up to Article 12 of the constitution he would be aware that “local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organisation of the State.” He would also have some passing familiarity with the fact that Chapter VII in its entirety is devoted to Local Democracy, and that Article 71 pronounces that “Local Government is a vital aspect of democracy and shall be organised so as to involve as many people as possible in the task of managing and developing the communities in which they live.”

I do not for a moment believe that Mr Whittaker is unfamiliar with those articles. What I believe is his real problem – apart from the dread that local government elections will be disastrous for the PPP/C – is Article 75 which allows for local democratic organs to be autonomous. Not surprisingly, a party whose article of faith seems based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, has successfully delayed local government elections for seventeen years, depriving citizens of their constitutional rights.

The citizens of Guyana expect that those responsible for the holding of local government elections will discharge their constitutional and statutory duties. We have a full-time Elections Commission (GECOM) which between 2007 and 2013 inclusive, but excluding election year 2011 benefited from ten billion, four hundred and seventy six million dollars ($10,476 million).

The Local Authorities (Elections) Act gives the power (and the duty) to fix the date for local government elections to the Minister of Local Government. Mr Whittaker has no discretion as to whether citizens want such elections or not and he should be confronted in the National Assembly with his unbelievable nonsense. Moreover, the President or his Governance Advisor must tell the country whether Mr Whittaker was articulating government policy.

The parliamentary opposition and civil society organisations must now provide the leadership to stop this abuse of citizens’ constitutional rights and do everything that is necessary to ensure that local government elections which were due since 1997 are held no later than August 1, 2014.

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