…capital allocations increased for all administrative regions for 2018As part of plans to expand the participation of all local organs in decision making to enable the regions to be effective in keeping with the policy of decentralisation, the Government has moved to increase capital allocations for all the administrative regions by some eight per cent in 2018.Communities Minister Ronald BulkanCommunities Minister Ronald Bulkan recently revealed that the proposed capital allocations in 2018 for the regions have been increased, with the highest allocation of $544 million, which will go to the East Berbice-Corentyne Region and the lowest of $226 million to the Potaro-Siparuni Region.Bulkan said all hinterland regions have enjoyed a 10 per cent or more increase in allocations. In addition to that, the proposed recurrent allocations stand at $33.8 billion, an increase of more than $2 billion.He noted that in 2017 the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) had received Government funding of approximately $35.5 billion; recurrent appropriations – $31.6 billion and capital investments – $3.9 billion.Meanwhile, to address the question of sluggish implementation of the Public Sector Investment Programmes (PSIP), in the latter half of 2017, the regions have been strengthened with the addition of Planning Units and a Planning Deputy Regional Executive Officer (DREO), to support this critical area. These capital investments are expected to fund: investment in regional economic projects, regional social services, and in democratic governance.“The backbone of the local Government system is our towns and villages or the municipalities and [Neighbourhood Democratic Councils] NDCs that have responsibility for managing and developing their respective areas. The democratic renewal though a prerequisite is not sufficient for the restoration of functionality within these organs. For that, the need for institutional strengthening, capacity building and their revenue base need to be addressed,” he added.Bulkan said in 2017, the Ministry produced an important training manual or handbook for Councillors. This document extracts the key sections of the two pieces of principal legislation, namely Chapter 28:01 and 28:02, and presents them in a user friendly manner to inform and guide Councillors on their authority, role and responsibilities. It has been distributed to each of the approximately 1170 councillors.Aside from this, Bulkan said the transformation and modernisation of the property assessment framework remains a priority of Government. “It is a constitutional prescription that local Government areas be economically viable and have an adequate resource base for the management and development of their area as per Article 72,” he added.Updated registerThe Minister said an updated property register was, therefore, key to Councils’ empowerment to be effective in the discharge of their functions and ensure financial autonomy and viability. In addition to that, accurate and current property valuations are a prerequisite for informed decision-making by Councils.“This is not an exercise in taxation, as was erroneously referred to by the other side. This is an exercise in empowerment; this is an exercise in making resources available in the various communities, to elected representatives to do the work required, thereby insulating them from the whims and fancies of politicians and agencies fixated with control,” he further added.In some NDCs, this subvention reliance meant that Central Government represented over two-thirds of their actual expenditures. In municipalities, the Government subvention represents close to one- third of actual expenditure.“It is the Government’s wish to have our Councils liberated of such central political control, to be guided by established norms and good governance practice; to be accountable to relevant institutions and their constituencies,” he asserted.In 2018, work will be advanced to realise the long-overdue update of property registers in municipalities and NDCs. New local councils in 2019 should have an updated register to make equitable decisions on the rate percentages they want to utilise.“Higher rates will result in higher local investment and delivery of services. Lower rates may mean more money in the constituent’s pockets, but may result in a lower overall quality of service. Ultimately, this will be a decision for individual Councils to make. Our responsibility is to provide them with accurate information to allow for equity and responsibility in decision-making. It is called good governance and responsible government,” Bulkan explained.The Minister said the Budget recognised the importance of building such self-sufficiency of the local government system, both in addressing the outdated land values and in the institutional strengthening activities that must surround such an action. This will be a significant step in equipping these institutions.The National Regional Development Consultative Committee (NRDCC), he reminded, the Opposition boycotted and declared that “this time we do not expect a repeat of the boycott and we look forward to engaging the regional leadership in issues critical to the development of their respective regions”.Regarding the Local Government Commission (LGC) and the Guyana Association of Municipalities (GAM), Minister Bulkan indicated that Budget 2018 provides $110 million and $10 million respectively.