While he supported proportional representation, Independent Senator Anthony Vieira said the Municipal Corporations Amendment bill missed the mark. He gave it a three out of ten.
Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, Vieira said he agreed with his colleagues—Ian Roach and Elton Prescott—that there was a need for informed consent which required the public to be properly educated on the bill.
He noted there was no mention of proportional representation as a means of selecting aldermen in the People’s Partnership manifesto of 2010 or in the Policy of Local Government modernisation which was produced earlier this year and in the report of local government bodies.
“So I can’t help but wonder about the strategic intent of this legislation. Who conceptionalised it? And in what circumstances? Is it a bill about advancing the cause of proportional representation or about improving local government. If so, I give it a three out of ten,” he added.
Vieira said he would have expected the bill, the first attempt at local government reform after 23 years, to focus on addressing the systemic problems of autonomy, performance and accountability of local government bodies, to give greater power to local government representatives to influence the process of development in their communities.
He also said he did not think the proposed amendments would improve local government. He said the bill missed the mark and he was not convinced that it promoted proportional representation.
“However, since it is a first baby step towards the introduction of a mixed system of representation, I am inclined to give it my qualified support in the hope that Government would make good on its promise to move away from the first-past-the-post system at the national level and to deliver on its promise to democratise and strengthen local government bodies,” he said.
Vieira said he supported the movement of the electoral system away from the first-past-the-post system to proportional representation. He said the winner-take-all system had the most flaws of all systems and proportional representation had less flaws, but a mixture of the two systems was best.
He also said he supported local government reform. But he said local government reform should not be rushed through Parliament on the eve of an election and on the cusp of a budget debate.
“It should not be bulldozed into law without the support of the key stakeholders.”
Vieira said while Government was saying that the bill was about greater democracy, the process involved in the tabling of the legislation was undemocratic.
Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir suggested that there be a fixed date for the presentation of the national budget.
He also said fixed dates for general elections should also be introduced.
On the issue of the property tax, he said he hoped that the revenues obtained from this tax would be used to finance local expenditure which would directly benefit homeowners in the communities and not for the financing of central government.
He said there was nothing in the bill about the financing arrangements of local government bodies.
Mahabir said it was time for a national discourse on proportional representation.
“We need to get it right at the beginning and identify the flaws (in the system),” he told the Senate.
He recommended that the Government examine the data from the Elections and Boundaries Commission to analyse how third parties have performed electorally in this country so that any flaws in the (mathematical) formula (for selecting aldermen) and proposed shortcomings in the Municipal Corporations Amendment bill could be identified.
He said one of the benefits of proportional representation was that there could be no gerrymandering of constituencies, no voter or house-padding or allegations thereof. He said there would be benefits as well as disadvantages, but he said proportional representation could not be hastily done.
—See Page 19