Government stays committed to district autonomy


25-June-2009

The Minister for Community Development, Youth, Sports and Culture said a lot of work has already been done in that area.

He said several basic structures have been put in place to allow for local leaders and residents to play active roles in decision-making that affects their communities.

At the same time, this will make it possible for government representatives to provide better service to the people in the districts.

Mr Meriton’s statement followed questions on district autonomy, empowerment and budget management from MNAs Roy Nibourette and Waven William.

The minister said the basic structures in question are the district social committees, district consultative committees and district teams. These, each with its specific and distinct role, are the basis of the community, he stressed.

“It is they that feel the pulse of the community in terms of its needs and aspirations and decide on the right course of action for their fulfilment,” said Mr Meriton.

This system of local governance means that each person who is privileged to represent the community on any of these structures is serious and can work in a team on a common agenda for the benefit of the community, he added.

Mr Meriton said all those in responsible roles on these committees should be accountable to the people and the community they serve. They should be up to date with issues that matter to the community and they should remain in direct contact with the people they represent.

He said it is important to note that the Department of Community Development encourages local planning using local structures.

It is now three years since the districts began preparing their yearly action plan in which they set out their priorities in terms of projects, programmes and services, he added.

Mr Meriton said the ministry is now reviewing the functions of district administrations so as to improve the services they offer.

But district autonomy depends on various factors such as availability of space, human and financial resources and IT facilities, he added.

With regard to space, Mr Meriton said work had started to ensure enough room is provided in the districts for their administration and other partners to operate.

However, due to budgetary constraints the process has not yet been completed in many districts.

In several cases district administrations, agencies and other partners are operating in very limited space, but they are working to the best of their abilities to deliver the services required of them. Once the financial situation allows, work on the process will continue.

As for human resources, several training workshops were organised in 2007 and 2008 for all categories of staff, aimed at upgrading their skills.

And two long-term certificate and diploma courses for district administrators are planned for this year.

Mr Meriton noted there are vacancies in some districts at present, and talks are going on with the Department of Public Administration to fill them with the right people as soon as possible.

There is also a need, he said, to upgrade the skills of those leaders already working on the various district teams.

Another aspect of the ministry’s decentralisation programme is to let districts manage their own budgets.

Mr Meriton said for the past four years the districts have been looking after their own finances and prioritising the projects to be carried out.

As for district empowerment, Mr Meriton said the existing basic structures promote planning, carrying out and following up on projects and programmes by the community.

He said the Department of Community Development has put in place the necessary structures, but it is up to local leaders to ensure they function for the benefit of the community.

This is called local governance, he added, and it is carried out in the districts and not in the ministry.

But he stressed that it is government’s policy to ensure all ministries put at the disposal of their representatives on the district teams all the necessary resources for them to operate efficiently.

It is the responsibility of each ministry and agency to remain in touch with their representatives in the districts so as to address issues as they arise on the ground.

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