Tuesday, September 29, 2020

“The truth behind the proposed Local Government Bill”

I wish to rebut commentary on the proposed Local Government Bill that the Ministry of Local Government intends to take to parliament as stated in the commentary column of the Sunday Standard (Sunday 13th – 19th June, 2010).

Indeed we have been crisscrossing the country consulting stakeholders, in particular Councilors on the proposed Bill because they will be mainly affected by some of the new features proposed in it. Let me first state as you observed that we are consulting, and our understanding as a Ministry is that consultation means exactly that.

People who are consulted will make input, suggest amendments and advise accordingly. The reason for consulting is that the proposals are not cast in granite otherwise we would not be wasting precious time consulting.

I am glad that from our meetings with Councils they have made valuable suggestions that will ultimately improve the Bill.

I was rather pleased that for a change, the media and in particular your paper has taken keen interest in the Local Government discourse and affairs. I was looking forward when reading your commentary to lofty ideas that would improve performance of Councils and in turn service delivery to our communities.

I am, however, a bit disappointed that instead you chose to bash our proposals and even more disturbing is that your contribution is from a misinformed point of view. In your commentary, you erroneously stated that the proposed Bill seeks to among others; bestow on the Minister the powers to fire incompetent Councilors.

This is far from the truth, there is nowhere in the Bill that such a provision is made and I find it absurd and remarkably surprising that you chose to feed the nation with untruths through your commentary.

I challenge you to point out to such a clause. I thought articles written as commentary are carefully thought out, researched and aimed at giving direction and alternative views to suggest better ways of doing things.

The commentary goes on to criticize the proposal to increase tenure of office of Mayors and Chairpersons from two and half years to five years.

It is ludicrous to suggest that this amendment is borne out of the fact that it concerns us as to who chairs the Councils; because if the law is passed by Parliament it will be implemented probably after we shall have left the Ministry that is after the 2014 elections.

Our main interest as a Ministry and government in the election of Mayor/Chairperson is that, the position can only be legitimate if it is provided for by the law that establishes Councils. Of course, as suggested by your paper, it cannot be left to the jurisdiction of the Councilors because the law is made by Members of Parliament not Councilors.

It also follows logically that once you state in law a provision to elect a Mayor you should also state as to how long she or he will stay in the position and how she or he could be impeached when necessary. Otherwise you create a grey area that could lead to legal entanglement.

Throughout my consultations, I have not heard a strong and convincing argument from those who oppose the five year tenure as to why a Council Mayor or Chairperson like their counterparts in the region cannot stay that long in the position.

We at the Ministry recognize the significance of the position and we want the person occupying it to be allowed time to plan, strategize and execute without distractions of campaigning to seek a new mandate. In any event if the person is not capable, by two thirds majority Councilors can remove him or her.

So I do not understand what the controversy is all about.
The other clause that is viewed to be controversial by your esteemed paper is the one that gives the Minister powers to establish or dissolve Councils. I do not know out of sheer ignorance that you could not realize that this is totally not a new clause.

It has been there since the invention of Councils in this country. So to accuse government of a sinister motive of introducing this as a new clause is unfair. I believe your quarrel with the clause is what has been raised by some commentators that maybe it is time we qualify to what circumstances can the Minister dissolve a Council. At the end of the day there might arise a probable cause, devoid of politics, that will call for the Minister to dissolve a Council.

I personally welcome the input of the media in this debate and I believe the same goes for the rest of my Ministry and government as a whole, but our hope is that instead of rushing to unfounded conclusions on issues, you will put a little effort of informing yourselves of facts pertaining to the subject you are commenting or giving an opinion on.

With this proposed Bill we do not intend a review of the Local Government structure but like you rightfully pointed out, we are just consolidating the existing two Local Government Acts and taking advantage of the exercise to remove a few grey areas that existed in them.

In our Ministry we believe in strengthening local democracy and will work tirelessly to ameliorate circumstances and conditions that suffocate it. It is for these reasons that through this proposed Bill we want to empower BALA to be recognized by law as the voice of Councils.

I look forward to and expect continued informed dialogue, input, advice and opinions from your papers that will truly advance the knowledge of your readership about our intentions as a Ministry. For your information, in our quest to further decentralize and devolve authority to the local authorities, we await with anticipation the report of the ongoing consultancy on decentralization policy.

*Rammidi is Assistant Minister of Local Government

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.