By Rupa Seenaraine
Former Local Government Minister, Ganga Persaud has placed the blame for the chaos at the Local Government Commission (LGC) squarely at the feet of Communities Minister, Ronald Bulkan, which, he noted, has been stymied due to the withholding of funds for its operations.
Persaud noted that prior to the budget hearings, the Communities Minister was supposed to submit pertinent documentation, which would recognise the agency as a constitutional body. However, this was never executed and the organisation remained under the Ministry.
“The Local Government Commission is a constitutional agency. However, there was need for the necessary documentation to be presented by the Ministry of Communities so that it could be recognised as independent of the Ministry. That didn’t happen. The budget was presented and the Minister of Finance in his wisdom reduced the allocation to that agency but the agency received an allocation which was approved by Parliament,” he said.
He added that there were high hopes on the part of the coalition Government that the Commission would have functioned as it was designed to, but this is not the reality. Questioning where the fault lies, he pointed towards the leadership of the Minister since Parliament is a legislature which cannot make such missteps.
“The Local Government Commission promised a lot according to the Government and expectations were extremely high. Unfortunately, all those expectations have resulted in zero benefit and the only thing that came out of that process is frustration and uncertainty. The performance of that agency is seemingly stymied by the Ministry and one has to hold the Minister accountable. Where does the fault lie? Certainly, it cannot be the Parliament. It has to be the Administration, the de facto Government and more specifically, at the feet of the Minister,” the former Minister stated.
Now that a reduced budgetary allocation was presented to the Commission, instead of the budget they requested, their work is being stymied due to lack of finances and moreover, staffers have been unpaid for their months of service.
According to Persaud, this move is aimed at leaving the Commission with no other option but to relinquish its responsibilities to the Ministry; another way for Government to take control of local democratic organs.
Persaud said to rectify this issue, the budgetary allocations must first be released to the Commission by the Secretary of the Commission, Emile McGarrell, since these monies were allocated during the budget. Adding to that, the Commission must be duly established to function as any other constitutional body.
According to Chairman of the LGC, Mortimer Mingo, McGarrell said that the 2019 budget of the Commission for salaries was not in agreement with that of public service workers, hence he would not sign off on payments. Persaud related that this was not an excuse since employees of other commissions are not being paid in accordance to a public service scheme.