The Minister of Local Government should not have control over local authorities and their elections

On March 8, I penned a letter ‘Under the constitution Minister Lall cannot instruct the Auditor General’ (SN) after he informed the nation that he had so instructed, and that the Auditor General (ag), had duly complied. After writing that letter, I read an equally strange and uninformed disclosure by the Minister in connection with a proposed sale of a playground in Nandy Park to a “prominent, very well connected businessman.”

The Minister revealed at a press conference that he summoned persons to his office, and that they pleaded not guilty “in that they did not know the law.” For good measure, the Minister, having set himself up as a tribunal, then ruled that “it was quite clear they are all knowledgeable of the law.”

I regret that I cannot say the same of the Minister, a senior member of this government. Although Mr Lall displays a regrettable ignorance of relevant, key provisions of the constitution and the laws that are specific to his post, we tend to regard such behaviour by a minister of Mr Lall’s standing as providing light relief, not worthy of a comment. But this time it is different. As Minister of Local Government, Mr Lall is empowered under section 3 of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act Cap 28:03, for the “general direction and supervision over the registration of voters and over the administrative conduct of elections.”

In my view, the electoral system should be entirely taken away from the political authority and vested in the Guyana Elections Commission. Some may say that this is still not ideal, since the commissioners are all political appointees. But at least in GECOM, the Carter model prevails with both government and opposition parties represented, under an independent chairman.

That model was intended for a limited time only and it is more than time for it to be changed. But we should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The ruling party should go through with the agreement for an amendment of the law to remove the control which the Minister of Local Government has over the local authorities and their elections. That will help to foster confidence in the electoral process.

Finally, let me recommend that our ministers replace their in-house public relations contract employees with in-house attorneys-at-law. Larger private sector entities ensure they have in-house legal expertise to advise them on the laws and prevent them embarrassing themselves either in public or private.

Edit: I have been informed, and can confirm that section 3 referred to in my letter was changed in 2009 so that the fear about the Minister’s control of elections has been removed.

His control of the local authorities and city councils remain however.

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