ESSENTIAL for the advancement of regional development which seeks to aid in a long-term national achievement, is the key ingredient of “cooperation”which must characterise the actions and efforts of Guyanese, as was described by Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, during a Regional Democratic Council (RDC) leadership forum held yesterday. The forum which was hosted by the Ministry of Communities at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre under the theme “Unveiling a vision of Regional Empowerment,” formed part of the ministry’s efforts to enlighten and restore the roles and responsibilities which were traditionally invested in the regional democratic organs, but had over the years been absorbed by central government.
Facilitating a delegation from each of the 10 administrative regions, led by regional chairmen and regional executive officers (REO), the forum stood as testimony to the United Nations
Development Programme’s(UNDP’s) encouragement and committed support as was expressed by UNDP RepresentativeKhadija Musa.
Praising the move by the ministry to facilitate such a timely forum, Musa described the collective effort as being one which bears testimony to the Government’s commitment to advance human development in Guyana.
She alluded to the fact that, “When Presidents, communities and their leaderships are involved in a collective way to achieve their development goals, social cohesion can be achieved.”
In this regard, she underscored the importance of residents in these regions charting their own local initiatives, which she said can be the drivers of development in their communities.
But why is this initiative is being executed in a timely manner? tTe UNDP representative said it is because it follows the passage of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2015, which vests financial and administrative powers in the Local Government Commission, removing them from the subject ministry.
According to Musa, this bill will advance local government reforms and result in the loss of substantial power by the minister, and this is a demonstration of the importance placed by the government on giving power to the people.
As it relates to Guyana’s highly centralised coast, Musa noted that decentralization is considered an important element of participatory democracy and represents the means to strengthen the roles of local actors in contributing to public policy.
“The challenge for local governance and decentralization in Guyana and the rest of the Region, respond to a range of factors related to history and the very institutional design of governmental, political, economic and social assistance, empowering local government and providing them with the space, offers them a unique opportunity not only to continue to strengthen democratic practices, but also to respond to citizens’ demands with greater efficiency,” she said.
To this end, the UNDP country representative reaffirmed the organisation’s support and commitment to the ministry in areas related to strengthening local governance.
Although absent due to him representing the country abroad, President Granger’s brief remarks were delivered by Minister within the Ministry of Communities Dawn Hasting-Williams, who was eager to assure Guyanese that the APNU+AFC Government will adhere to an empowerment policy that regularly renews local democracy by ensuring that local government elections are held this year.
Relaying the President’s speech, Hasting-Williams told the attendees that “We shall fortify grassroots democracy by ensuring that residents are allowed to play a greater role in managing their regions and villages.”
She continued that, “Government envisages a Green Guyana; one that sustains economic prosperity, environmental security and social well-being. Government would like to challenge regional councillors that we all ensure that Guyanese in every region, town and village have a good life through social, cohesive and empowered communities.”
Demanding the spotlight next was Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan, whose presentation was nothing short of an impressive contextualized overview of the roles, challenges and requirements of the RDCs.
Reflecting on the May 11 General and Regional elections, Bulkan told the gathering of just over 200 that the results did not register a victory, but provided an opportunity to establish a government of national unity and to create inclusionary democracy which the constitution prescribes.
He dismissed the idea that the elections had been a single one, offering that there were 11 elections that were held simultaneously.
This was the philosophy upon which the leadership forum was being executed, the minister said, adding that it is an exercise which is customary and one which is traditionally held by central government as an induction and orientation of new councillors of the 10 RDCs.
These 10 RDCs, Bulkan claimed, have the task of advancing development in the regions and by extension, the country, as was noted by President David Granger some time ago, when he said, “strong regions will lead to a strong country.”
But as it relates to the roles of the RDCs and their ability to adequately execute their mandated functions, Minister Bulkan disclosed that it is regrettable that “the regional administrations are treated as step children” with their authority ignored and their roles understated. He added that it would not be unfair of him to claim that the RDCs are being treated as children, who are to be seen and not heard.
“The role of the RDC goes beyond the conventional conception of it being merely responsible for taking care of the physical environment and extends to other areas, including even the preservation of law and order and to stimulate economic activity and improve production and efficiency,” Bulkan told the attendees yesterday.
Furthermore, he highlighted that the Constitution is unambiguous with regard to roles of all local democratic organs, which include the RDCs.
Referencing these roles of the RDCs as are stipulated in the Constitution, he pointed to Article 12 of the Local Democratic Organs Act which states that local government by freely elective representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organisation of the state.
Additionally, Article 71:1 which described local government as a vital aspect of democracy and states that it shall be organised so as to involve as many people as possible in the task, managing, and developing of communities in which they live, was also alluded to.
To this end, he highlighted Chapter 28:09 of the same Local Democratic Organs Act, which, at section seven, provides the duties of the local democratic organs as:
A – To maintain and protect public property
B – To protect and improve the physical environment
C – To improve working and living conditions
D – To stimulate economic activities and improve production and efficiency
E – To promote the social and cultural life of the people
F – To raise the level of civic consciousness
G – To preserve law and order
H – Consolidate socialist legality
I – To safeguard the rights of the people
J – To give advice, encouragement and support to the people, their daily activities and to give leadership by example.
But not limited to Constitutional provisions, the minister was reminiscent of the fact that, following the swearing in of regional chairmen recently, the President had urged that each democratic council fashion a Plan of Action for Regional Development (PARD) which will include initiatives for attracting investments leading to new economic activities and job- creation.
He revealed yesterday however that the regions will not be left on their own to craft their respective PARDs for the period up to 2020. Instead, this will be done through the full support and active cooperation from the Ministry of Communities.
“In this regard, the ministry is already engaging the Ministry of Finance, which has agreed to provide technical consultants that will work with the RDCs to provide specialised skills needed for this highly specialised undertaking. We have approached as well, the UNDP, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and UNICEF, all of whom are willing to provide support,” the minister disclosed to the regional executives present at the forum yesterday.
He assured them too that the ministry will continue to approach and lobby the support of other international agencies to guide their councillors on the crafting of this document.
But for the regions, Bulkan advised that a mindset which sees residents taking more ownership of the region must be adopted. “Individually, they have to set themselves targets to attract investors… We must challenge ourselves and others,” he said.
Making presentations at the function too were representatives from the Ministries of Finance, Governance, Health, Education, Tourism, Business, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, and Public Infrastructure.
Scheduled to provide presentations too were representatives from the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T); Digicel and E-networks; Annette Arjoon-Martins, Committee Member, Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana; Beni Sankar, CEO, Kayman Sankar Group of Companies; and Lloyd Rose, CEO, Dynamic Engineering Ltd.
At the end of the event, the regional chairmen each received a specimen of the Guyana flag and an emblem for each region, together with the description and write- up on each region.