Guyana officials stay nearly 20 years in mandates

Associated Press
In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 photo, Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green poses for a photo at his office in Georgetown, Guyana. In colonial times, the governor of what was then called British Guiana would impose hefty fines on officials of the capital for refusing to show up and do their job of running the city. Today, this rugged South American country has the opposite problem: The mayor and municipal councilors in the capital and five townships showed up for work nearly 20 years ago and essentially never left. (AP Photo/Adrian Narine)

View gallery

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — In colonial times, the governor of what was then called British Guiana would impose hefty fines on officials who refused to show up and do their jobs.

Today, the rugged South American country of Guyana has the opposite problem: Many city officeholders assumed their posts nearly 20 years ago and never left.

Political maneuvering has led both major parties to repeatedly delay municipal elections, which are supposed to be held every three years. This has frustrated Guyanese fed up being unable to hold officials accountable for corruption, shoddy municipal services, crumbling infrastructure and dwindling government budgets.

"This situation means that I am the longest serving mayor in local history by default," said 78-year-old Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green, who was appointed by the city council in 1994. "And I am not proud of it at all."

Even council members who have died or emigrated have not been replaced.

"It is supposed to be 15 of us, but time has taken its toll to such an extent that only seven of us are left now," said Jennifer Conway, who has been on the council of New Amsterdam, the country's second-largest city, since 1994. "Many have migrated to the U.S., two have resigned and some have died."

"Sometimes we have to postpone meetings because we can't make a quorum," she said.

They don't appear to be hanging on for profit, though there are some perks. As mayor, Green gets a $200 monthly stipend and a full-time staff, including bodyguards and drivers. Conway earns $50 a month. But the officials also don't seem to be getting much done. City services are plainly lacking in much of the impoverished nation of 741,000 people. Garbage often clogs the streets of a capital prone to flooding, and bribes are an accepted way of obtaining basic services, such as electrical power for a new home.

Green alleged that the ruling People's Progressive Party has undermined his efforts to generate revenue for garbage disposal, road repairs and other improvements by blocking funding at the Cabinet level.

Meanwhile, officials such as Green remain in office because of the same political paralysis that prevents action on numerous important issues in the largely undeveloped country. Legislators say they will not call elections until they first pass a set of municipal reforms, while voters blame the country's legendary bureaucracy and political infighting for delaying both the reforms and the elections.

"There is something within the Guyanese society that allows for tolerance. We become complacent to a plague of mediocrity," said Nigel Westmaas, a Guyana native and assistant professor at New York's Hamilton College.

Complicating matters, said Westmaas, Guyana has moved away from a British-based form of government toward one of its own creation, resulting in a byzantine local system. "Even people in government don't know how the system functions, much less how to repair it," he said.

Both the ruling party and Green's Partnership for National Unity have repeatedly called for new elections, but have just as frequently postponed them because they want to reform the roles of municipalities before elections are held. The debate about how municipalities should be reformed began in 1999, and it has since reached a stalemate.

"It has taken far too long, there's no doubt about that," said Rupert Roopnaraine, leader of the main opposition party. "It could be argued that there was not sufficient will on part of the government to push the reform through and make the necessary compromises."

Roopnaraine, whose party runs three of the six municipalities, said the reform process has been "torturous" and blamed a divisive Parliament for the delay.

"At the moment, there is no local democracy," he said. "These councils have been dysfunctional for a very, very, very long time."

Legislators in January introduced a bill calling for municipal elections to be held in December 2013 at the latest, but did not set a firm date.

President Donald Ramotar has said he cannot hold elections until Parliament approves the reforms including giving local governments more financial autonomy. Both sides have said that it makes no sense to hold polls with outdated laws. A committee formed to study the proposal, however, has been meeting for more than a year and has not yet presented a possible bill.

"It's been an issue for almost as long as I can remember," said David Carroll, democracy program director at The Carter Center in Atlanta, who has traveled to Guyana several times to monitor general elections.

There's now even international pressure to solve the city council problem.

Ambassadors from the U.S., Canada, Britain and the European Union recently issued a joint statement saying the situation has undermined the efficiency of municipalities and local democracy and is hampering Guyana's ability to attract foreign investors to a country rich in gold, diamonds and bauxite.

"While the people of Guyana are familiar with the reasons offered for repeated delays in holding local government elections, there is no valid justification for further delay," the ambassadors wrote in a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in January.

Westmaas said the two parties don't seem interested in holding elections.

"(It is) a collective embarrassment that democracy at the crucial level of the community has gone unfulfilled for so long, and that foreign diplomats have to provide pressure for something so logical and necessary," Westmass said.

The issue dominates conversations at almost every social event, said Clinton Urling, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, who complained that officials are not being held accountable for failure to deal with local problems while elections remain on hold.

"It's reached a point where it's boiled over. Everybody is so frustrated," Urling said.

Meanwhile, Guyanese wait and fume.

"It is more than despicable and beyond comprehension that elections have not been held," said Ivor Defreitas, a 54-year-old Georgetown teacher. "It is a pity we have to live with the same people for nearly two decades."


Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

View Comments (9)

Recommended for You

  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

    Reuters47 mins ago
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Eight family members decapitated in north Mexico

    Eight people from the same family, including two minors, were kidnapped by masked gunmen and their decapitated bodies were found days later in northern Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. The bodies were found after a ninth member of the Martinez family escaped Sunday's abduction near Casa Quemada,…

  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…
  • Colorado theater shooter's dad saw wide-eyed smirk before

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes came home on winter break from graduate school looking haggard and making odd facial expressions, but his father didn't suspect at the time that he was descending into mental illness.

    Associated Press
  • Play

    Body cam footage from Cincinnati shooting contradicts official story

    A University of Cincinnati police officer has been indicted for murder after body camera footage contradicted his official story outlining the events that led to the shooting death of unarmed Cincinnati driver Samuel Dubose.

    Reuters Videos
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

  • Trump leads Republicans, but Democrats thump him: poll

    Bombastic US billionaire Donald Trump handily leads all fellow Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, though Hillary Clinton and other Democrats trump him in head-to-head matchups, a poll said Thursday. Trump plunged into the crowded Republican nomination battle last month, and has since…

  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Buffalo Snow Pile Refuses to Melt Eight Months After Snowstorm

    The sun is shining, swimming pools are open and there’s still a giant snow pile in New York.The calendar says it’s almost August, but an estimated 12-feet-tall snow pile still lingers in Buffalo, New York from a snow storm eight months ago.“The original problem started back in November,” New York…

    ABC News
  • Killer deal: Amazon will pay you $10 to buy a $30 Google Chromecast

    Google’s little Chromecast dongle is pretty awesome. The device plugs into the HDMI port on any HDTV or monitor and instantly gives users access to movies, TV shows, videos, music, photos and more that can be streamed from any Android device. Best of all, perhaps, the Chromecast is wonderfully…

    BGR News
  • Teens' 6 days adrift verge on limits for survival at sea

    TEQUESTA, Fla. (AP) — Crews pushed the limits of an ever-expanding search zone Wednesday for two teens missing at sea and potentially nearing the boundaries of human survival.

    Associated Press
  • Play

    Custom truck built by father and son stolen in Lemoore

    A Lemoore man is on the hunt for his stolen pick-up truck. The classic custom ride holds significant sentiment to its owner, who built the truck with his late father.

    KFSN – Fresno
  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

  • Independent media battle on in Putin's Russia

    By Timothy Heritage MOSCOW (Reuters) - Alexei Venediktov, one of Russia's most prominent journalists, does not go out without a bodyguard and does not answer mobile phone calls for fear of being tracked. Such precautions do not seem out of place in a country where at least 17 journalists have been…