Return of constituency politics in Guyana

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

I wrote this LETTER TO THE EDITOR in August 2016. On re-reading it in KN, I see that all the concerns remain relevant today.

Anecdotal evidence (admittedly, limited) suggests that constituency politics in Guyana, reintroduced through the new local government system, is yet to take recognizable shape. That shape encompasses bringing our local representatives closer to the people they represent. This closeness is expected to give people a direct voice in how they are governed and to make their representatives more responsive and responsible.


With the scrapping of constituency politics in Guyana since the 1960s, its return five decades

later naturally faces several entrenched obstacles. One obvious obstacle is our sheer inexperience (including, most critically, that of the newly-elected councilors) with how the system should work and how should representatives represent.


Another obstacle must include the pittance (a few thousand dollars) paid to councilors, especially those in the NDCs. Among the several drawbacks of a miserly stipend is the reality that many councilors would be deterred from doing constituency work if they feel uncompensated for the cost of doing that work.


Moreover, I suspect that the smallness of constituencies both in terms of geographic area and population may inadvertently increase the separation between electors and the elected. This may sound counterintuitive, but councilors of such small constituencies may see no need to communicate with their constituents because these councilors may believe they already know the problems in the constituency.


The overarching challenge to constituency politics, of course, is the near inescapable presence of the whip system of our main political parties. The reflex reaction of our political parties will be to exercise some central control over local government authorities and councilors. That said, it should not be overlooked that parties could potentially hasten the development of proper constituency politics because of their reach and resources.


What should local government and constituency politics look like in Guyana? Years ago, I spent time at Guyanese friends in a small community in Pennsylvania, USA. In the few days I was there, my hosts received an invitation to a community meeting, several reminders by flyers and emails of various events (such as a Bingo), and a copy of the community newsletter. The newsletter (which I have since kept as a souvenir) includes information on proposed bylaw changes, events at the community centre, a youth fishing derby, work done by the maintenance department, and the biographies of candidates seeking to fill vacancies on the local council. (This is the website of the community - https://elainc.org/)


What was striking about the approach of this community council in Pennsylvania was the high frequency of engagement with residents to both inform and involve them. This is the model we should follow in Guyana. Getting there, of course, requires not only a national plan but a cultural and political reboot.

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