The Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development, Premila Kumar, has reiterated that reforms will need to be undertaken before any Municipal Council elections are held.
In responding to statements by political parties and Letters to the Editor, Minister Kumar stated that major reforms will be undertaken to give new direction to the Municipal Councils.
“I had clearly stated at the meeting with the Nadi Chamber of Commerce on Saturday 5 January 2019 that I would not be able to give an exact date, as a lot of things still need to be done, such as revising Legislations which are more than 40 years old,” Minister Kumar said.
In August 2018, the Rural Local Authorities were transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Local Government. These are the additional functions that would need a closer examination, as far as town boundary classification was concerned.
“Extension of town or city boundaries is an important exercise to be undertaken, before an election can be held. With the great responsibility now bestowed on the Ministry, things will need to be done in a proper and systematic manner and not be rushed for the sake of election. These reforms are pre-requisite to hold elections,” Minister Kumar said.
It is to be noted that governance of Municipal Councils has been evolving and we need to look at different and effective governance structure that will give better returns to ratepayers.
Minister Kumar also stated that not many rate payers participate in Municipal Council elections. There is lack of clarity as to who can vote in a Municipal election. This was challenged in the court as well.
In 2002, 37 per cent of the population voted at the Municipal Council elections and in 2005, only 31 per cent of the population voted. These numbers speak for itself and one can see the level of participation by rate payers.
We cannot use the flawed election system that was introduced in 1972.
The Minister further reiterated that during the time of the Councillors, the number of rate payers who were in rate arrears were much higher when compared to now.
“Statistics shows that under Special Administrators, Municipal Councils have been able to reduce number of defaulters from 42 per cent to 25 per cent. This reduction came about because of non-interference and favouritism,” Minister Kumar elaborated.
The Ministry of Local Government will need to put a better system of Governance of Municipalities based on global best practice to ensure that municipalities work smartly.