Government’s efforts to cut spending will see the size of constituency councils reduced and members paid only for meetings they attend.
But under legislation passed in the House of Assembly today, the councils will, for the first time, be allowed to accept money from companies and charities, and also organize fundraisers to help foot the bill for their work.
The changes were among several announced by Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development Steve Blackett under the Constituency Councils (Amendment) Bill, 2015 which he introduced.
He said while he was “generally pleased” with the programmes which the councils were carrying out, he has been worried about the “operational and the administrative apparatus” and the changes in the legislation would address those concerns.
The number of members of each council will be cut from 15 to 11, allowing for “better control and handling, especially at meetings of the constituency councils” and contributing to Government’s overall expenditure reduction efforts, he said.
The number of council meetings will be cut in half and the quorum will be reduced from nine to six members.
Blackett also disclosed that the number of people on the council’s committees would be reduced from five to four; council members would be able to serve more than two terms; their appointments could be revoked by the minister if they failed to participate in any of the functions of the council; and members would be paid only for meetings they attended, as is the case with other committees and boards.
The minister told Parliament that while the councils had been given approximately $2 million annually over a four-year period the money had not been enough to carry out their activities.
While the councils needed to generate additional financing, they could not do so under the existing legislation.
The amendment passed today would allow the councils to engage in fundraising activities, once they complied with the ministry’s “strict guidelines” and received approval from the permanent secretary.
“Beyond this amendment, we are going to further strengthen their revenue or in-kind earning capacity by allowing them to accept monetary or in-kind donations from a company incorporated under the Companies Act . . . or a charity registered under the Charity Act,” Blackett disclosed.
However, he was quick to add: “Councils seeking donations of any kind shall first seek the permission of the permanent secretary before accepting those donations. I want to make that caveat extremely clear.”
Christ Church East MP Dr Denis Lowe, the only other parliamentarian to speak on the amendment before it was passed, defended the constituency councils.
He said while they have been accused of being partisan, they have been carrying out their mandate and should be applauded.