The Ministry of Communities on Thursday unveiled a detailed development agenda targeted at decentralizing and modernizing the local government apparatus through emphasis on the establishment of capital towns, the promotion of a commercial mentality and the corporatisation of municipalities.
The forum, which was organized by Permanent Secretary, Emil McGarrell, saw participation from other permanent secretaries of government ministries and served the purpose of faciltating dialogue on a “one-government” approach to the implementation of local governance.
It was also aimed at capturing perspectives and engaging respective government agencies to determine their level of involvement and to assist in the formulation of a strategy paper that would guide the implementation of a modernization plan.
The development agenda forms part of a call by President David Granger to shift from the compound mentality of maintaining a centralized approach to local governance.
The plan of action, which spans five years of a 15-year target, is estimated to cost an average of $22B, with initial resources being provided by Central Government.
Among the proposals are the renaming of regions and the identification of several other municipalities in at least four regions including three, four and eight. Consequently, Georgetown will no longer be regarded as a regional town but will only be considered the Capital City.
During the discourse, stakeholders raised several concerns regarding the implementation of the agenda, including the continuance of the institutional policy framework in the likelihood of a change in the governance structure.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Trevor Thomas pointed to the lack of resources to ensure an integrated and coordinated approach towards the provision of social services.
He lamented the high cost of medivac services with government spending $100M annually and the cost of one medivac standing at $500,000.
The PS added that there is currently no facility within the regions with the capacity for the storage of blood and its byproducts.
Thomas explained that there is a national expectation for the ministry to intervene whenever there is a lapse on the part of the regional bodies to dispense their duties.
As such, he disclosed that the health ministry is exploring the creation of a regional health authority that would serve as a main hub for the coordination of health services in the various regions.
Thomas conceded that unless there is a coordinated approach, any attempt at national or regional development will be futile.
Chairman of the National Procurement and Tender Administration, Berkley Wickham related that the procurement system in Guyana is second to none and has already been used as a model in other countries.
However, Wickham mentioned that the challenge can be found in the lack of adequate human resource development and therefore building the country`s human resource capacity must be high on government`s agenda.
He disclosed that the administration has always been plagued by poor record keeping and employees using their authority for personal agrandisement; all issues stemming from the quality of staff.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, George Jarvis during his contribution said that since agriculture is one of the main drivers of the economy, it is therefore key to any efforts at decentralization.
During closing remarks, McGarrell stated that the core functions of the ministry is to ensure the dispensation of housing, water, local government and regional development.
He believes that the issue of local government development is very instrumental in improving the quality of life in communities by promoting a cohesive, sustainable environment through planning, good governance and satisfactory service delivery.
According to him, since natural disasters happens at the level of communities, the focus must be placed on strenthening the risk management and response capacity of each region.
Among the suggestions which came out of the working group sessions,was the rigorous implementation of a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, investment in capacity building, harmonization of legisation and the development of a single-window operating system.
There were other contributions from Permanent Secretary of the Public Infrastructure Ministry Balram Balraj, Vibert Welch of the Indigeneous People`s Affairs, Finance Secretary, Dr Hector Butts, who moderated the forum and Auditor General Deodat Sharma.
The Ministry of Communities has been given a specific mandate to empower and equip local democratic organs, promote local economic development, instill integrated waste and water management, provide quality, affordable housing solutions and to strengthen policy management.
Given the backdrop of public services geographically inacessible to most communities, the current system has been deemed incapable of producing the desired development or contributing to the achievement of a “One Nation” Policy.
The new system would be aimed at reducing the influence of central government by placing oversight of local democratic organs under the purview of a commission instead of the ministry.
This commission has since been identified and is currently awaiting the identification of a building to properly begin its work.
Over the past year, several advances have been made including an increase in the number of municipalities across the regions with recent township status given to Bartica, Lethem and Mabaruma.
Mahdia along with areas to be identified in Regions three, four and five is soon expected to be added to the growing list of newest municipalities.
With various capital towns to be named, Region Six which boasts three municipalities at Rose Hall, New Amsterdam and Corriverton will have a decision to make on which is likely to become the capital town.
The intention is for municipalities to adopt corporation-like functions which will allow them greater autonomy and financial independence, expand their revenue base and ensure the investment of surplus profits wisely.
These towns must eventually develop the capacity to finance their own infrastructure such as roads, bridges, aerodromes, wharves, sport and recreational facilities.
It will also allow municipalities, to engage in promoting business, industry and manufacturing, thereby creating employment.
The emphasis is on the generation of economic activity within the communities themselves thus reducing the dependence on urbanised areas and the movement of people towards the coastland.