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Are councilors representing their constituents?

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Guyana’s political system and culture have molded our representatives (whether in parliament or councils) into trustees. Trustees use their personal judgment to act on behalf of those they represent. Democratic theory accepts this form of representation as legitimate even should the parliamentarian or councilor neglect to first ascertain the opinions or interests of his constituents. Representatives-as-delegates, in contrast, reflect the expressed preferences of the represented. Delegates act largely as emissaries, a role that requires them to consult with their constituency. Recent complaints from residents in several parts of Georgetown over the unilateral actions by their council clearly signal that the public demands a role in decision-making. People therefore want councilors to behave more as delegates.

Municipalities and neighborhoods are well-positioned to give more meaning to representation than parliamentarians. As NDCs are smaller geographic and social units, their councilors can act more as delegates. They have easier options (acting collectively or individually) to determine the wishes of constituents by, for example, holding community meetings and hearings, doing walk-abouts, constructing and using email listings, and conducting surveys. The local government legislation even makes provisions for non-elected residents to participate as non-voting committee members. Stated differently, smallness allows councils to lean towards direct democracy (channeling the voices of the people straight into the decision-making process) as opposed to towards representative democracy (with the emphasis on the involvement of substitutes).

Which brings up the accountability question of how do residents ensure councils are responsive and responsible, and their serious failings corrected or punished between elections? Circumventing an extended discussion here, I will only state that this responsibility will fall on the residents themselves, the Local Government Commission, the Local Government ministry and, informally, the high command of the political parties.

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