Power to the (local) people

We are exactly one week away from Local Government Elections 2023 and it is heartening that the crowds have been increasing at the PPP’s meetings across the country. The meeting at Kowsilla Community Park in Leonora addressed by VP and PPP’s General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo last Friday was nothing short of a massive rally, rivaling those in the most tensely contested General Elections. Addressing another large meeting the following evening at Republic Square Corriverton, Berbice, the GS adverted to the “complacency” he found expressed by many that LGs are “not as important” and sought to debunk it.
While he emphasized the political aspect inherent in decisively defeating the Opposition PNC/APNU in all the eighty local government areas, he emphasized that the PPP was transforming itself “from just an ordinary political party into a movement for progress across Guyana.” A “movement is a group of people working together for a common social, political or cultural go” – the goal here being “progress” for all Guyanese. It is rather unfortunate that the main Opposition PNC is in the throes of a meltdown resulting from vicious infighting between several factions seeking to capture the leadership.
This is because inherent in the practice of democratic governance is the need for any incumbent government’s policies to be challenged on their merits by alternative formulations or approaches. There is also the need for the incumbents at all levels not to start believing they are immune to the salutary politics of “in and out”. For too long governance at the local level has been overshadowed by the national competition for control of the central government. The VP emphasised that a refocusing of the political lens is part and parcel of the new “movement”.
“You’re voting to safeguard your community and your children from fake promises and negative vibes and division and it all rests with you in your hands. The people have all the power,” he declared at Corriverton. Implicit in his exhortation is the commitment that the new PPP movement will give meaning in practice to the long-professed goal of empowering people at the grassroots in decisions that affect them. While the 1980 PNC constitution of Burnham introduced an intricate Local Government structure he staffed it with thousands of party card-holders and never allowed the people any real decision-making powers. To a large extent, there has been a hysteresis or lag in moving towards this goal that may now be given new life under the PPP regime.
It is intuitively evident that decisions at the local level are best made by people who live at that level: in the local idiom, “he who knows it feels it”. And as such, it is imperative that they have an input in crafting proposals for addressing their issues. The involvement of greater numbers of people in the LGE rallies and meetings will ensure that the locals become more aware of both the individuals running for office and the platforms on which they are running. They can then become involved after the elections if the programs on the platforms are not being implemented. This is the essence of the democracy the VP was talking about in the new movement being fostered.
In the USA, there is a saying that “all politics is local” and in their three levels of government, the local units are very vibrant. We should expect no less in our similar governmental setup. But the philosopher Immanuel Kant pointed out what is now a truism – to wit, that “ought” to imply “can”. To say that local government “ought” to become more vibrant means we have to ensure that “can” become so. And this implies fulfilling two imperatives: firstly, local officials be trained to execute their responsibilities and secondly, they are funded to execute the projects on the party programs.
While the oil revenues might facilitate greater subventions from the central government, the local residents must also bear some costs, if for nothing but to make them feel part of the process.