Local Government Commission shut down

Another blow to democracy

…Communities Ministry withholds funds

By Rupa Seenaraine

Much tension has erupted at the Local Government Commission (LGC) which has caused it to effectively shut down after the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities refused to countersign documents to release funds for salaries and other expenses.

The Local Government Commission

Chairman of the Commission, Mortimer Mingo together with the other Commissioners engaged media operatives on Friday, where he noted that it has been 65 days since salaries were paid to employees. As a result of the lack of other financial resources, some utility services were also disconnected.
“The Local Government Commission is constrained to report that its operations are effectively shut down by virtue of the refusal of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community to countersign the documents that would allow for finances to be released to this constitutional body,” said Mingo.
He used the platform to state that the agency has exhausted all avenues to address the matter. According to him, the Commission submitted a budget which outlined a proposed “work programme and expense outlay” on December 14, 2018, which was later approved by Parliament.
However, when the expense record was submitted on January 14, 2019, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Emil McGarrell, said that the 2019 budget for salaries was not in agreement with that of public service workers, hence he would not sign-off for payments.

Chairman of the LGC, Mortimer Mingo

“The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communities advised that he would be unable to affix his signature for the adjustment of the Commissioners’ emoluments…It then became apparent, by a way of a letter received by the Commission from the Deputy Permanent Secretary… that the Ministry was not in agreement with the level of pay that the Commission’s staff was receiving since according to the letter, these salaries were not in keeping with the traditional Public Sector emoluments.”
As such, the LGC opted to settle the matter through a meeting with McGarrell on January 28 but the Permanent Secretary did not withdraw his decision of not signing the documents.
With support from fellow Commissioners, he stressed that these salaries were effective from July last and no objections were made by the Finance Ministry prior to the letter. Mingo also stated that the agency is not a traditional public service agency, but a constitutional agency with an experienced and qualified workforce.
On this note, an observer explained that the development is a blow to democracy since the Local Government Commission is a constitutional body and that the Minister should not have full control of its operations.
“This is preventing the Commission from operating as a constitutional body. The Commission has to deal with appointments and dismissal and a host of things that the Minister would usually do. They have not recognised the Commission as a constitutional body. The Communities Minister still wants to be in control of the Local Government Commission,” she added.

The Chairman also used the opportunity to clear some of the misleading facts that were peddled by the Ministry as to why they were not paid.

Communities Minister, Ronald Bulkan

“The salary that we are paying to our staff was being paid in 2018 from July of 2018 with no query, with no objection from the Ministry of Finance nor the Ministry of Communities…As the Local Government Commission, we [want to] bear the facts to the public and to correct some of the misleading statements that was being articulated by the Ministry of Communities,” he explained.
The Commission had submitted a sum of $305 million for capital and operations, inclusive of salaries. However, this was reduced to $124 million for capital and $13 million for recurrent expenses.
Because of the cutbacks, they were forced to rework the allocation programme to suit the budgetary allocation. The proposed budget would have catered for the employment of new recruits and an upgrade to their operations.
This triggered a comment from the Vice-Chairman, Andrew Garnett, who highlighted that the Ministry was bestowed with $124 million just to implement City Hall’s Commission of Inquiry recommendations, while they have been tasked with operating for an entire year with a similar sum.
“The emoluments [at other commissions] exceed what we pay to our people…The Minister of Communities received a sum of $124 million to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry of City Hall. That amount represents the same sum that we were given to run this commission in terms of recurring expenses to satisfy the expenditure for the entire year 2019,” said Garnett.

Stymieing operations
Meanwhile, Commissioner Clement Corlette voiced his opinion, noting that this act is viewed as a way of stymieing the operations of the organisation. He raised the idea that the Commission was eliminating anomalies at local organs and this did not do well with the Ministry.
“We have been making prudent intervention into correcting the anomalies where it exist in the Local Government system. That Ministry that was first tasked with that responsibility apparently is not too happy with the progress we’re making so they set out to stymie it,” Corlette asserted.
The Commission also raised concerns that the implementation of many of the findings from the Commission of Inquiry into City Hall’s operations has been delayed.
Some 27 staffers are questioning their next move as they continue to work without payments as $9 million is needed for outstanding payments for the month of January.
President David Granger has received a letter about the “grievous and vexation issue”, to which he has acknowledged.
Meanwhile, a legislation is yet to be passed for the agency to be considered constituted under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA). Since their establishment back in October 2017, the LGC was placed as an interim under the Ministry until this framework was in place, even though it is a constitutional organ.