Transparency, accountability vital for effective governance by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 15, 2004

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Transparency and accountability are essential components in ensuring that local government systems function effectively and in the interest of their constituents.

This view was expressed by Dr. Martin Rider of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia University, U.S., while addressing a public forum on the funding of local government bodies at City Hall last Tuesday night.

Observing that he does not have a "recipe" for the effective functioning of the Guyanese local government system, Dr. Rider, however, said there are general principles of local governance, which can be adapted to suit the peculiarities of Guyana.

Among the principles Dr. Rider outlined were an appropriate electoral system, effectiveness of the civil service, fiscal relationship between central government and local government and among local government bodies and level of autonomy of local government.

The method of transfers of funds to local government is dependent on the services it would provide, which should be clearly defined, Dr. Rider advocated.

He contended that a situation which he described as having a large vertical gap, that is where the local government has to provide a large portion of services but is provided with little funding from central government would not be sustainable because experience has shown that local governments have a limited capacity to raise revenue. In order for local governments to function effectively there should be a narrowing of the vertical gap.

Dr. Rider also expressed the need for narrowing of horizontal gaps, that is, differences in resources among local government bodies of different districts. He urged that central governments should provide financial support to the weaker bodies to create a greater semblance of balance but not total equality.

Fiscal transfers by central governments should help to foster and achieve national objectives, he urged, adding that local governments must have some degree of autonomy but there must be a balance, especially with respect to borrowing of funds. Pointing out the danger of this practice, Dr. Rider gave the example of Argentina and India where he said local government bodies are heavily indebted because of the autonomy granted to them to borrow money. The level of autonomy should be in accordance with what they are responsible for and the ability to make meaningful, he urged.

Another decisive factor in the effective and efficient functioning of the local government system outlined by Dr. Rider is that local government officials should be accountable to their constituencies who should have the power to remove them if they do not perform in the interests of development. In order to achieve this, he exhorted that the system should be a simplified and transparent one, contending that a complex system runs counter to the principles of transparency and accountability.