Stronger NDCs needed
Your Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and municipalities were established to give you, as residents, more voice in how your communities are run. The intention is simple enough: as residents are more aware of, and more affected by, local issues, give them the power to deal with these issues.
But for the local government system to work well, two things must occur: i) councils must be true to their mission, and (ii) residents must be interested, and be allowed to participate, in council decisions.
How can councils better fulfill their mission? What rights do you, as residents, have to participate in council decisions (RESIDENTS BILL OF RIGHTS)? We give short answers below.
In addition, we discuss several local government issues in our Blog.
RESIDENTS BILL OF RIGHTS
You have a legal right to attend all meetings of your NDC and municipality. Your right to attend is written in the by-laws and standing orders of local authorities. You could be barred or removed only if (i) accommodation is not available, (ii) a special matter is being discussed, or (iii) the chairman finds you to be disruptive.
To fully exercise this right, you are entitled to know the date, time, and agenda of all meetings and to have copies of minutes of meetings.
You have the right to be selected as a non-voting member of standing or ad hoc committees of your NDC or municipality.
You have the right to submit letters and petitions to the council on any matter of concern to you or the entire community.
NDC BEST PRACTICES
To be true to their mission, what are some of the best practices NDCs can use? As a first step, all councilors should read the handbook for NDCs and municipalities prepared by the then Ministry of Communities.
Good ideas from the handbook include:
Invite citizens to attend statutory council meetings as they are entitled to by law.
Hold public meetings or forums to allow citizens an open opportunity to raise their concerns.
Hold a public hearing when there is an important issue or controversial project about which you want to know the public’s opinion.
Establish a “help desk”, “front desk” or “information desk” near the entrance to the municipality or NDC office.
Use social media to provide updates to citizens on council activities.