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|Description||By Leonard GildarieThis past week, I was in a hot debate with a councilor of a Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) on the East Bank Demerara over the operations of the entity.Leonard GildarieThe council has collected less than 50 percent in its rates and taxes and is struggling to find money to carry out projects. It is not a new story. There is never enough money to go around.Notices have been sent out to defaulting customers for several months now and the NDC is awaiting a period before it decides on the next step.I had the distinct impression that this particular NDC and even the Town Councils across the country are unaware or have not fully come to terms with their powers.Amended legislation in recent years has seen significant changes to the Local Government laws, so much so that it has vested tremendous powers in these bodies to run business independently, including raising rates and taxes and taking action to upgrade the communities they are responsible for. They no longer have to depend on the Ministry of Local Government (now Ministry of Communities).This year, after more than two decades without one, Guyana held local government elections.It came after much bickering in and out of Parliament. The elections were hailed by local and foreign donors and the ABC countries. It was recognized that the local government – NDCs and Town Councils – were essential to the running of the country.It made a lot of sense. Guyana cannot be managed from Georgetown. It requires a system of government which ensures that communities under their authority are managed – garbage collected, drains cleaned, approvals for construction, and even management of playgrounds and streets.For years, many of the NDCs and Town Councils were allowed to slip into a sorry state as councilors died or migrated. Many of the areas were one-man or one-woman shows, with corruption and favoritism rampant and collections of rates and taxes at an all-time low.Infrastructure was left to fall apart and it appears that the NDCs and Town Councils were helpless. It had to seek permission from the Government of the day to raise rates and taxes.All that was supposed to have changed with the local government elections this year.I want to digress here and draw comparison in the US. It is remarkable what happens there. Each state runs its own business. In New Jersey, for instance, gas is cheaper than nearby New York because of lower taxes.Some states are openly competing, offering incentives and tax breaks, to attract businesses. I know of cases where some big corporations shifted to other states because of better conditions.In Guyana, the possibilities are endless with the new independence that NDCs and Town Councils now enjoy. They have to embrace it.These new powers have been a subject of much misunderstanding and debate. I am no expert.But I understand the importance of my NDC. The councilors who knocked on doors and asked people to vote for them earlier this year have to understand this too.This past week, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan engaged the previous Local Government Minister, Norman Whittaker on those newfound powers.Bulkan pointed out that Section 54 (1) of the Local Government Act, Cap 28:02 clearly states that local organs have the authority to fix their rates (on the appraised value of properties,Cheap NFL Jerseys Online,) ¡°to meet [their] expenditure needs.¡±This means, Bulkan argued, that when those needs are identified, a council has the power to set the level of rates on properties and other taxes to garner revenue to meet those needs.Bulkan raised the same issue that I am asking.¡°Editor, we are at a crossroads; how does a council see its role? Does it view itself as having a minimalist role in the governance of its area? A wide, deep, self-assertive role as is permitted by law? Or, one somewhere along that spectrum? Those are important questions because the answer determines how a council will act.¡±Bulkan also insisted that ministerial approval was no longer required for the budget for the NDCs and Town Councils.The minister went further: ¡°Therefore, as things stand, Section 155 of the Act applies. According to the section, the authority to approve estimates of the revenues and expenditure resides in the councils alone. Ministerial approval is not required¡±.Bulkan also noted that the Local Government (Amendment) Act 2015 is revolutionary in scope. No longer do NDCs require ministerial approval to employ their own staff (officers and servants) or to approve their budgets (amendments to Sec 42 and 54).¡±Furthermore, the obnoxious and offensive provisions that allowed a Minister to remove an elected council and appoint an Interim Management Committee (IMC) have been excised from the legislation.¡±What Bulkan has said is what I also interpreted from the new laws. I like it.There was too much interference in the running of the NDCs and Town Councils over the years.It does not matter which party did well in the last Local Government Elections. What matters is how my NDC is taking charge.I find it unacceptable that my NDC is collecting only 35 percent of what it is owed yet is crying out for money. As a matter of fact, I should protest this situation by not paying until the NDC can prove to me that it has taken steps to collect from the other residents living in my district.We need to understand that the power lies with us.|
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