By Tony Sisule

A debate has been raging on the fate of the current local authorities in the new constitutional dispensation. Analysis of the various provisions of the basic law indicate that there are going to be radical changes in how local areas are managed.

The new Constitution indeed has ended the erstwhile local councils and created new entities to govern urban areas and cities, which will be determined by an Act of Parliament as provided in Article 184. This law must be legislated within one year from 27 August 2010 as required by the Fifth Schedule. In effect, these urban area and city councils will be brand new as determined by this Act of Parliament. Hopefully, Parliament will use the opportunity to ensure seamless linkages between these urban entities and National and County Governments and end the rot and inefficiency that has characterised the old councils.

Clause 18 of the transitional and consequential provisions in the Sixth Schedule allows the existing councils established under the Local Government Act (Cap 265) to continue operations for the time being, clearly stating that this is dependent on any law that might be enacted. When Parliament establishes legislation to govern urban areas and cities (Article 184) and streamline relations between National and County Governments (vide Clause 15 of the Sixth schedule), the old entities will be transformed. All councils not designated as ‘urban or city’, especially the county councils in rural areas (not to be confused with the new County Assemblies) will effectively be dead.

Chapter 11 on devolved governments does not mention the old councils at all. The provisions of Part 2 of the Fourth Schedule and Article185-186 on functions of County Governments effectively place all the work previously done by the old councils in the hands of the new County Governments. Crucially, Article 177 provides for the election of only one representative from each Ward to the County Assembly. So an election of councillors in these Wards other than to County Assemblies and to the yet to be created urban and city entities would be unconstitutional.

As we enter the implementation stage in earnest with the creation of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) of the National Assembly and the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC), government and citizens should be keen on correctly interpreting the new law lest we make grievous and costly mistakes. There is a need to ensure a smooth transition between the old and new order devoid of political grandstanding to please certain interests. The new Constitution is supreme and vested interests cannot be allowed to controvert it.

It is important to be vigilant and ensure that once the enabling laws are in place, state officials and institutions apply the Constitution and legislation correctly and progressively improve their performance in executing the constitutional and legislative provisions. The National and County Executives will need to plan well and effectively use budget allocations to meet the aspirations of people. The National Parliament and County Assemblies will have to zealously oversee implementation of laws, plans and budgets by the Executive. The Judiciary must insist on its independence in interpreting the Constitution and upholding the law. And all leaders will have to perform with exemplary flair and proceed in their work with probity.

Sisule has been a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) staffer advising the National Parliament of Timor-Leste in Asia-Pacific since 2008. The views expressed here are his own do not necessarily reflect the policy of the UN.

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