Letter-to-the-Editor: Broad reforms needed to give “Mayor” real authority

Clinton Urling

Dear Editor,

I must commend the Granger administration for establishing a precise date for Local Government Elections (LGE) and equally congratulate GECOM for the organization and hosting of LGE on March 18.

While citizens will go to the polls to elect councilors in geographical locations that have Municipalities, not many quite understand the structure, role and functions of the municipalities and other organs that comprise the entire local government system.  This is so because we have a very outdated and cumbersome local government system.

From my interactions with many citizens in Georgetown, there is a belief that the system allows for direct voting for a mayor who has broad responsibilities for the effective administration of the municipality under his/her control.  Recently, and as a result of public edification campaigns, it is becoming more known that the Council, which is elected by the people, elects the mayor subsequent to LGE.

Another striking assumption being peddled by the citizenry is the belief that the mayor is in charge of the executive and administrative arm (makes decisions on hiring employees, supervises and coordinates departments, and implements decisions by the council) of the municipalities and anything that goes wrong, the mayor is to be blamed and held accountable.

In Guyana, this is not the case, we have what is called a ‘weak-mayor’ system and is mostly a ceremonial position with he/she having little or no formal authority outside the Council.  Our current Council-Manager system resides executive and administrative functions to the Town Clerk, who acts essentially as the CEO of the municipality while the council is akin to a Board of Directors of a corporation, largely responsible for policy making and oversight. In this structure the mayor is the Chairman of the board.

Additionally, and making the system more cumbrous, is the Local Government Commission (LGC) which has responsibilities, among others, to deal with all matters relating to employment and dismissals of employees of local government organs.  This seminal responsibility of effective management and accountability of those elected mayor or hired as town clerk resides in an external body.  So, if an instance arises that the Town Clerk has lost confidence in an employee under his/her charge, he or she can only bring a case for dismissal to the Commission. Similarly, the mayor or elected council cannot hire or fire the town clerk. This is a recipe for disaster, which we have seen manifested over the years.

In contrast to the sentiments expressed by Mr. Vincent Alexander that the LGC would reduce conflict and interference from central government once appointed (SN March 13), I believe that what we would see is merely an exchange of authority from Minister to the Commission, which members would be selected in majority by the President of Guyana and his Communities Minister. The president can simply chose members whose loyalty is to his government.

It is my hope that after this elections, our parliamentary representative would see the wisdom in reforming the entire system to make it simpler and modeled after the ‘strong-mayor’ or Mayor-Council system where the mayor is directly elected, and dismissed, by the people and has wide administrative authority.  The oversight functions will reside with council.

Such a system is more representative of a peoples’ democracy and it also fulfils their expectations of the mayor of the municipality.

Clinton Urling

Editor’s Note: Clinton Urling is the former head of Blue CAPS, which advocated strongly for the holding of Local Government Elections (LGE) under the previous administration. Blue CAPS at the time contended that further delays in holding LGE was a threat to the democratic process and the empowerment of the citizenry.