By Sue-Ann Wayow
EXPECT local government elections in the next few months.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not announce an election date on Wednesday as anticipated but said that legal provisions will be in place to ensure that the election was called within the legal timeframe.
In a statement made to the House of Representatives, Dr Rowley said, “I want to make it abundantly clear that the government has no choice but to accept the ruling of the Privy Council and be guided by its findings and their effect on operations and intentions.”
He also said, “The government must now act to rectify any shortcomings that was not there before.”
Dr Rowley emphasised that local government was not in crisis and “there is no need for the mayhem, sackcloth and ashes that some dire.”
The Prime Minister acknowledged the judgement of the Privy Council that ruled in favour of activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj as he challenged the State on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Act, 2022 that was assented to on July 1, 2022, which Dr Rowley said was done following “a comprehensive process of law reform” and without any malicious intent.
From his government’s perspective, it was “a genuine desire to bring about local government reform.”
“But as at May 18, 2023, a new situation developed requiring the government to respond,” he said.
Dr Rowley said Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, has already engaged in public discussion concerning settled law in the context of de facto officer doctrine which provides that a court may confer validity upon acts performed by a person acting under an official title even though it is later discovered that the legality of that person’s appointment or election to office is deficient.
He explained, “By the application of the common law, de facto officer doctrine, the actions and decisions of the corporations will be recognised by law as valid.”
Dr Rowley informed the Lower House that the Deputy Chief Parliamentary Council was in the process of drafting the necessary legislation to validate all acts of the corporations from December 2022 up May 18 as well as for a further three-month period from that date.
He said, “All that is required is for the government to act within a reasonable time frame to maintain an orderly response and effect the necessary processes including the calling of elections gleaned within the ruling set outlined by the Privy Council.
Dr Rowley continued, “ Following the decision of the Privy Council on the 18th of May, the time for calling an election is now passed due. The Government is duty-bound to call an election in accordance with the Statutory procedure prescribed in the act and the Representation of the People Act. Pursuant to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet and that is found in Section 81 of the Constitution is now to be mandated to issue a writ setting the local government elections in motion.
“Under existing law, a period of not less than 35 days must lapse between the issue of the writ and the taking of the poll. Immediately and within three months of the 18th of May, the government will move to issue the writ so that a poll can be taken within the usual 90-day window. With the arrival of the new decision the option always exists to extend the office of incumbents up to the 18th of May so as to validate actions prior to May 18th and to call an election to be held within three months of the 18th May 2023.”
Dr Rowley said, “Of the many options available this is the one most suitable and the one chosen by the Government at this time.”
On Monday, the necessary legislation should be laid in Parliament, he said.
Once that legislation has gone through all of its stages, the date for the local government within the 90 day window will be announced Dr Rowley assured.
Echoing Armour’s statements on the ruling of the local courts, he noted that it was only up until May 18, that a decision was made overruling the previous judgements.
The prime minister also said that his Government will not be accused of tampering with the Constitution in any way.
“The government pleads not guilty,” he declared.