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Friday, 25 January 2013 12:00

Lutchmeeparsadsingh Ramsahok – ‘Whither our Local Authorities ?’

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Municipalities and District Councils, after seven years of hibernation, suddenly came in the lime light following the regional elections held in December 2012. With the amendments brought to the Local Government Act 2011, the whole set-up has been changed with new wards coming into existence and new regulations brought in to govern these new bodies.
Those who have been chosen to take the helm of these local authorities start with a series of complaints on lack of infrastructure, of staff and other means to carry out an efficient administration.

Lutchmeeparsadsingh Ramsahok is a former Minister of Local Government and is currently the leader of the Parti Action Liberal. He is a keen observer of the functioning of our local bodies scrutinising all the aspects of their administration with a critical eye. In what follows he makes an overview of the current situation in our municipalities and district councils, focusing mainly on the district of Grand Port.

Why is your concern over the current administration of our local authorities?
Everybody is asking for the whereabouts of the newly elected mayors and chairmen of district councils. Where are they? I am sure most of your readers don’t know the names of their new mayor or chairman. The latter feel it is better not to show themselves in public. Just because the task is heavy and the demands are pressing with no solution in sight. The case is more than evident in Port Louis with the new Lord Mayor daily facing the ire of the street vendors.

It is my duty as former Minister of Local Government to share my experience with those who have been recently elected to administer the affairs of municipalities and district councils. With the amendments brought to the Local Government Act in 2011, newcomers in particular should understand the new piece of legislation of 936 pages that contains 167 sections or paragraphs, among them the most important are sections 10 to 16, 22 to 28, clause 32, 50 and 51, 67 to 69, 80 to 85 and 117. If the newly elected councillors could master these paragraphs and sub sections, then it would not be difficult for them to meet the challenges on their way while at the same time they will be in a position to help and satisfy their voters during their two year tenure in office.

What is happening is quite shocking and funny at the same time; shocking because all the local bodies have been sleeping profoundly during these seven years, leaving more than half of the country in sub-development because of political uncertainty related to the holding of regional elections after its normal five-year term; and funny because many who have been elected in 2005 have either resigned as councillors or keeping a wait-and-see position, thus with no decision taken for the development of the community, with the staff not paying due respect to them and finally with no possibility to give any instruction to the management.

Things stagnated and rotted – Port-Louis, with a project for an extension of its existing building at the site of the fire brigade station thrown in the bins and the money spent on entertainment, it has a historical building, housing a beautiful theatre, falling in ruins; Beau Bassin-Rose Hill facing the same problem with the Plaza theatre, in Quatre Bornes the construction of a new market is on the agenda for years now, the town of Vacoas-Phoenix remains a large village with Mahebourg and Flacq and Goodlands more developed and the town of Curepipe with major projects lying dormant.

Do councillors really have any power in their respective council?
I must say that with the coming into operation of the Local Government Commission, the power of councillors has been considerably curtailed. Recruitment, promotion and disciplinary measures which were formerly under the jurisdiction of municipal and district councils until 1986, have been hijacked by government and given into the hands of the Minister of Local Government and through him to the Prime Minister’s office.

What are they doing at the council?
Their duties and responsibilities at the council, according to Section 10 of the Act, is to represent and act as an advocate for the interest of their respective community and to consider and report any matter of interest or concern to the council. There is in respect to every local authority, other than a village council, a General Fund into which is paid all revenues and such amounts of grants in respect of all expenditure as may be appropriated by the National Assembly. The councillor at this point comes forward to scrutinise the accounts and ensure that all payments to and out of the General Fund are made appropriately.

In the same breath I would like to mention that the Parti Action Liberal has, since 2004, fought for an allowance to be paid to all councillors. We are satisfied, though not fully, that chairmen of all municipal and district councils, as well as chairperson of village councils, are today remunerated following amendments brought in the new legislation. Today we ask that all village councillors too are paid an allowance of Rs3,000 monthly. When persons are remunerated they are more motivated to work for their community even though they promised to do so voluntarily during election campaigns.

What about the funds allocated to village councils? Who manage these funds?
Every village or village council funds are managed by the Chief Executive and Financial Controller of the District council exercising jurisdiction over the village council. Here I should draw the attention of readers of various anomalies as per the Grant in Aid to villages. Let us take the District of Grand Port with a number of 24 village councils receiving a grant of Rs 2,677,264. Whereas the general grant is Rs3. per head, a village like Bananes, with a population of 660 persons, gets a total grant of Rs 82, 484; and that Rose Belle with a population of 12,035 gets a total grant of Rs 115,961; that Mare d’Albert with a population of 4,666 gets a total grant of Rs144,144 , compared to Mahebourg with a population of 15,176 inhabitants has a total grant of Rs 139,499!

There is here a strange variable in the mathematics of those who decided upon the grant-in-aid for the villages of Grand Port! Adding to that is the list of project proposals for the development of villages in the south of the country, it should be noted that it is being proposed to build a new village hall, ground floor only, to the cost of Rs2,500,000 (two million five hundred thousand) at Bananes with a population of 660 persons. At times the figures announced in the project proposals are quite confusing: the resurfacing of Bhundoo Lane at Nouvelle France with the given dimension of 143 x3.3 m will cost Rs 350,000 whereas the resurfacing of Chandra and Cherry Lane at New Grove with the given dimension of 100m shall cost Rs575,000? less resurfacing area costing more!

Government has earmarked its last budget Rs 10 million for each constituency for development projects. Thus the District of Grand Port, including two constituencies- No 11 and 12- Mahebourg/Plaines Magnien and Vieux Grand Port/Rose Belle will obtain Rs 20 million for major projects in 24 villages and yet a deficit of several million rupees is to be noted at the level of the district council; a matter which the new councillors should look into with much seriousness.

What are your proposals?
Apart from asking to remunerate the councillors of village councils, we at PAL request government to act diligently for the promulgation of the ‘Land Administration Valuation and Information Management System (LAVIMS)’ which was voted at the National Assembly on 5 July 2011, repealing some sections of the Cadastral Survey Act.
This Act, after its proclamation will help the Ministry of Housing and Lands ‘to set standards for integrating the general valuation of every property’. With the new law coming into effect, Municipalities and District Councils will be able prepare a new ‘cadastre’ that will put a new valuation to all properties and thus increase revenue for the councils. This will help development projects in municipalities and in district councils which are facing an overall deficit of about Rs 450 million. I wish good luck to all newly elected councillors!

Indradev Curpen

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