Dominica's Local Government System
Empowering People for Local Development Management: A publication of the Department of:
Local Government and Community Development
Ministry of Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs
Revised November 2002
- Conceptual Framework
- Functions of Local Authorities
- Dominica’s System
- Types of Local Authorities
- Roseau City Council
- Portsmouth Town Council
- Carib Reserve Council
- Canefield Urban Council
- Village Councils
… all genuine democracy is participatory, that adjective serves only to remind one of the true character of democratic government. – Carl Cohen.
The active participation of citizens in the development of a country has been promoted as a prerequisite for any meaningful democratic system. Participation serves both to empower the citizenry and provide legitimacy to governments. Citizens today in developed as well as developing countries demand a greater say in matters which affect their lives. Governments throughout the world are being called upon to administer systems of governance which encompass greater transparency, accountability and democratic participation. It is imperative, therefore, that national governments create suitable conditions to ensure that citizens are involved effectively in the planning, implementing and evaluating of matters that affect their well being. It is in this context that a Local Governmental system which provides valuable opportunities for popular participation and responsibility to Local Authorities for local development management is seen as being significant to the development of Dominica.
This booklet describes this system of centralized governmental arrangement in Dominica by explaining the nature of Local Government on the whole and the origin and function of each type of Local Authority. It is expected that this information will help deepen the understanding of the Local Government System in the island.
Local Government forms part of a larger policy of decentralization. Decentralization itself can take many forms. While there ha been some dispute about forms of decentralization recently Hulme et al (1997) posits that the most common form of decentralization is:
Local Government emanates from the second form of decentralization. Devolution in its purist sense has been described as the ideal form of decentralization. According to Hulme et al (1997) it is seen as the ideal form of decentralization because it combines the promise of local democracy with technical efficiency. Local Government provides opportunities at the local level for people to serve their community in leadership positions as well as provide opportunities for people to elect their local leadership. On the other hand, Local Government allows development programmes and projects to be fitted to local environments and people’s needs. People participate in the identification, planning, implementation and management of development activities. Development activities, therefore, can be tailor made to people’s needs.
Village Councils, in particular, have had remarkable growth. Over the fifty years of their existence, they have moved from one Village Board in 1934, to ten (10) Village Councils in 1963, to twenty (20) in 1968, to thirty (30) in 1975 and thirty-seven (37) in 2002. These Councils have served Dominica well over the years, regulating undesirable activities in their communities and undertaking a variety of development projects.
These projects include the construction and maintenance of village roads, water supplies, health centres, playing fields, public conveniences, and community centres. In addition, they ensure that the communities are kept in proper sanitary conditions, and serve as a Central Government agents for the distribution of public assistance to Indigent community members and as a channel through which information on Central Government policies and programmes are conveyed to the local communities. Community concerns are usually transmitted to central government by written correspondence, delegations of local Councils calling on Central Government officials and public discussion held in their communities with members of Cabinet. They provide a vital link between the Central Government and the local communities.
FUNCTIONS OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Local Government is a form of political decentralization intended to encourage local autonomy and popular participation in a country’s decision making process.
Dominica’s system was introduced during the period of direct British rule and has evolved over the years from a solitary Board in the capital to a network comprising forty-one (41) Local Authorities.
Local Government literally means government at the local area. It is a system of institutionalised political decentralization which fosters local autonomy and poplar participation in the life and development of demarcated areas. It comprises Local Authorities which serve as conduits through which central government policy outputs, programmes, projects and information impact on local communities. Simultaneously it also provides the means by which community inputs can be institutionally conveyed to Central Government. That process, once the feedback mechanism is operationally functional, helps in maintaining the stability and the development administration of the State. It is the most “grass-roots” arm of government within a democratic system.
Unlike other community based organizations, local government bodies are popularly elected bodies empowered by law to regulate and administer affairs in their respective areas. These bodies, based on their traditional mandate, are responsible for basic amenities within their jurisdiction and locale. They are usually required to attend the development and maintenance of roads and parks, sanitation and public facilities, provide social/economic assistance, undertake recreation and education programmes, as well as charitable ventures.
Sir Clarence Seignoret, then President of the Commonwealth of Dominica, in his 1991 Presidential Address at the House of Assembly, on 24th June 1991, listed the following as the functions of Local Authorities:
- To provide opportunities for residents to contribute meaningfully to the decision making process at the local level;
- To take social and economic services closer to the people who need them;
- To create effective communication channels between Central Government and local communities;
- To develop local institutions capable of managing the development of their areas;
- To develop leadership potential at the community level.
These objectives are central to any true democracy and can be achieved through an effective local government system.
Local Government was introduced to Dominica over 100 years ago as part of a system of political decentralization used by the British to administer the island. From origins in the late 19th Century with two municipal boards, the Roseau Town Board in 1869 and the Portsmouth Town Board, either in the late 1800’s or the early 1900’s, Local Authorities in Dominica have evolved to their present number, forty-one (41).
These comprise three (3) municipal Councils, the Roseau City Council, the Portsmouth Town Council and the Canefield Urban Council. There are also the Carib Council and thirty-seven (37) Village Councils. Each of these councils were established under different circumstances over the one hundred (100) years of Local Government existence in Dominica.
The Roseau and Portsmouth Councils comprise thirteen members, eight of whom are elected and five appointed by the Minister for Local Government. They serve a term of three years. The Carib Council has a five year tem. It is composed of seven elected members including the Carib Chief for whom separate elections are held. The Canefield Urban and Village Councils serve for three years at a time. They comprise eight members each; five are elected and three are appointed by the Minister.
TYPES OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Roseau City Council
This Council is the oldest unit in the system. It goes back to 1896, and to the establishment of the Roseau Town Board. Dominica was under direct British rule as part of the Leeward Islands Federation at the time. Its affairs, along with that of the other states in that union, were administered by a Governor. This was before the island had Universal Adult Suffrage, so appointment to the Board by popular elections was not yet practiced. The entire Board was appointed by the Governor.
The “Town Board” as it came to be known, continued in its original form until 1937 when it was reconstituted by an Act of Parliament and changed to the Roseau Town Council. With this Act the Council was made into a Body Corporate with a term of three years. It was granted a membership of eight; three nominated by the Administrator and five elected by the residents. Its Chairman was designated ‘ Mayor of Roseau’.
The Council is empowered to regulate activities in the town by making by-laws and enforcing them within the municipal area. It is also authorised to:-
- levy house and land taxes;
- borrow a limited amount of money;
- contribute to educational and charitable ventures;
- acquire land or buildings for public use;
- establish and regulate markets;
- alter or extend the water-works;
- provide and maintain parks, garden and other places of recreation.
Although the Council has increased in size and the municipality expanded, its function has been affected by the establishment of utility service statutory bodies in the State. As a result, many of the services once provided by the Council are now distributed among those national specialised agencies.
Portsmouth Town Council
The Portsmouth Town Council started with a Town Board like the Roseau City Council. The first Board was established either in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Information on the exact date is not available, but the earliest document attributed to the Board is a By-Law enacted in1916. Its constitution as a Council, however, was affected in 1954 with the enactment of the Portsmouth Town Council Act.
This Act was patterned after the Roseau Town Council Act of 1937. It provided for a three year term of office, and a membership of eight; five elected, three nominated. The Chairman also assumes the title of Mayor. It also contains other provisions similar to that of the Roseau Town Council.
Canefield Urban Council
This is the most recent municipal Council established in the State. It was inaugurated in 1992 under the Canefield Urban Council Act of 1984. The Act authorizes the establishment of a Body Corporate responsible for the government of the area. It consists of eight persons; five elected by the residents and three nominated by the Minister with responsibility for Local Government. They serve for a period of three years.
Like other Local Authorities, the Council is empowered to make regulations to administer its affairs and to pass By-Laws for the good government and improvement of the area. These By-Laws could be enacted in a range of areas similar to that of the Roseau and Portsmouth Councils.
After a revision in 1961 the Act was later consolidated and amended by Act No. 27 of 1969. It was further amended by Act No. 6 of 1987, which extended its boundaries, divided the municipality into four wards, lowered the minimum age for membership from eight to thirteen. This made the Town Council’s Constitution similar to that of the Roseau City Council.
Carib Reserve Council
The Carib Reserve Act of 1978 which established the Carib Council, incorporated the office of the Carib Chief as part of the Carib Council. This Act provides for the establishment of “a Body Corporate for the government of the Reserve”, empowered to make provisions for the administration of the Reserve and for matters connected to its development. On the basis of the Act, separate elections are held for the Carib Chief and for the other six councillors that make up the Carib Council.
Like other Local Authorities, the Council may make By-Laws for the administration of the area. It also has power similar to that of the Roseau City and Portsmouth Town Councils. Unlike other Local Authorities, it has a linger term; the entire Council including the Chief serves for five years; other Councils serve for three years. Also except in cases when insufficient persons are elected, no provisions are made for nominated members on the Council.
The Carib Council serves as more than just another Local Authority. It functions as the official representative of the Carib people. The day to day affairs of the territory have become part of its responsibility, as well as the administration of the unique communal land system.
The development of Village Councils go back to the 1930’s and to the events in the north eastern village of Marigot. In 933 an English World War 1 Veteran and proprietor of the Melville Hall Estate, Mr Joefrey Ashpital, encouraged the villagers to organize themselves in order for them to improve the conditions of the village. Ten (10) villagers including the late W.S. Stevens, a school principal at the time, formed themselves into a “board”. This Board was formally inaugurated in 1936. It was preceded by the Vielle Case Village Board which was inaugurated in 1934.
These initiatives were encouraged by government with a small grant provided to assist in the purchase of materials for village projects. These projects attracted a lot of community participation with large numbers of people turning out on week-ends to work on projects. This keen interest, however, was interrupted temporarily by a period of open discontent when house rates were introduced. Villages expressed strong opposition to this measure as it was seen as a move by Government to tax rural folks. Such opposition, nonetheless, later gave way to healthy support for the Councils when their contribution to the development of the villages were manifested. This resulted in a phenomenal growth in rural Local Authorities in the 1960’s.
In 1939, Village Boards were granted legal status and in 1954 they were changed to Village Councils. The latest revision to their constitution was undertaken in 1961. Presently there are 37 Village Councils operating in the following villages:-
- Bagatelle/Fond St. Jean/Pointe Carib
- Bellevue Chopin
- Bense/Anse De Mai/Anse Soldat
- Castle Bruce/Tranto/Dix Pax
- Coulibistrie/Morne Rachette
- Delices/La Roche/Victoria Carib
- Grand Bay
- Grand Fond
- La Plaine/La Ronde
- Loubiere/Madrelle/Fond Baron
- Morne Jaune/Riviere Cyrique
- Morne Prosper
- Paix Bouche/Blle Maniere/Moore Park/Dos D’ane
- Petite Savanne
- Petite Soufriere/San Sauveur
- Pointe Michel
- Soufriere/Scotts Head
- St. Joseph
- Tan Tan/Savanne Paille/Toucarie/Cottage
- Tete Morne
- Trafalgar/Shawford/Fond Canie
- Vielle Case
- Woodford Hill
These Councils function under Chapter 190 of the1961 revised Laws of Dominica. On the basis of this Ordinance, each Council has eight members, five elected and three nominated. Each Council serves a term of three years and is authorized to make By-Laws to govern affairs in the respective village districts. The ability of these Councils, however, to enforce many of these laws is affected like the other Councils, by the centralisation of services formerly provided by Councils.
Local Government Reform
In 1999 the government with the assistance of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) undertook a study to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Local Government System. Twenty five (25) recommendations were made. Some recommendations have to do with the structure, status and capacity of staff, operating systems, legislation as well as broadening the financial base of Councils. A committee was set up to implement the recommendations comprising government, local Councils, private sector and civil society representatives.
The implementation of the recommendations is on its way.
Dominica Association Of Local Authorities
The Dominica Association of Local Authorities is a voluntary umbrella body representing the interest of Local Authorities in the State. It replaced the Dominica Association of Village Councils, which functioned from the mid 1960’s to the mid 1970’s. Upon its reinstitution in December 1990, the Association assumed the name Dominica Association of Local Authorities as its membership consisted of more than the Village Councils but rather, the forty-one(41) Local Authorities, Roseau City Council, Portsmouth Town Council, Carib Reserve, Canefield Urban Council and thirty-seven (37) Village Councils.
Its objectives are as follows:-
- To protect and promote the interest, rights, functions, and privileges of Local Authorities.
- To provide a medium of communication and to confer with Central Government Departments and other bodies on matters affecting Local Government in the State.
- To promote and develop social, cultural, educational and recreational activities for the benefit of Local Authorities.
- To provide a forum for Local Authorities to address matters of common interest, such as Legislative and Administrative proposals, with a view to taking common action.
- To assist in the provision of responsible and efficient Local Government.
- To seek representation on Government and Public bodies.
The Association is managed by an Executive Committee consisting of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Assistant Secretary/Treasurer, Public Relations Officer and one Committee member.
These officers are elected at the Annual General Meeting attended by three delegates from each of the seven District Council Associations, and one delegate each from Roseau, Portsmouth and Carib Councils.
Council have done this in several ways. The Constitution of each Council makes provisions for the establishment of subcommittees, to attend to specific aspects of the community’s development. As a result, some Councils co-opt leaders of other groups and organizations as well as professionals in their communities to serve as members on these sub-committees. These committees are either term of the Councils which formed them.
Another way in which Councils work with other groups is by participating in community coordinating committees. These committees comprise representative from each of the groups and organizations in the community and as the name suggests, they coordinate development activities in the community. This coordination is necessary in order to avoid duplication of projects undertaken by the organisations in the community and as the name suggests, they coordinate development activities in the community. Coordinating committees also provide a forum through which Councils undertake planning activities for the community.
Councils, in spite of their special status, are not able to respond to all the development challenges of their communities on their own. They need to work together with other community-based groups and organisations. In so doing, each organisation is able to complement each other’s resources and expertise. The Councils, being able to harness resources from central Government agencies, and regulate undesirable activities in the communities, are capable, as the principal governmental organization in the community, to give some direction to the development of the community. The other organisations, with their ability to access funding from Non Government Organisations and to attract voluntary community support for development projects, are well placed as partners in the local development process.
This arrangement does not by any means comprise the primary and essential authority of the Council. In fact where Council have adopted this approach effectively they have been able to cultivate the level of respect and confidence expected from the community as a whole. This approach to local development management is necessary if the principle of popular participation is to be maintained as part of the system of Local Government.
CENTRAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
In Dominica, Local Government is a creature of Central Government. None of the Councils – municipal, Village of Carib- are fully autonomous for they derive their authority and responsibilities from the Central Government. It is Central Government and the Parliament which delegate such responsibilities and authority to Local Authorities.
The Central Government agency responsible for the development and administration of Local Government is the Division of Local Government and Community Development, in the Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs.
This Division is responsible inter alia for the promotion of the concept of Local Government, educating councillors and members of the public on the duties and functions of Local Authorities. It supervises the operations of the Councils particularly in their use of funds provided to them by Central Government. It also provides for the continuous development of the administrative and legislative competence of the Councils in order for them to respond effectively to their changing environment and community needs.
This Division is responsible inter alia for the promotion of the concept of Local Government, educating councillors and members of the public on the duties and functions of Local Authorities. It supervises the operations of the Councils, particularly in their use of funds provided to them by Central Government. It also provides for the continuous development of the administrative and legislative competence of the Councils in order for them to respond effectively to their changing environment and community needs.
In addition to these, Central Government serves as an important source of financial resource to Local Authorities. Funds raised by Local authorities from local house and land taxes fund raising events are inadequate to meet local needs. As a result, Central Government provides annual grants to each Local Authority. Besides funding, the Councils also rely on the Department of Local Government and Community Development for material resources as well as technical, administrative, planning and organizational support.
This dependence on Central Government for resources has implications for the ability of the Councils to be truly autonomous. However, the matter of autonomy relates also to the system of devolution of powers. As indicated earlier, over the years Local Authorities have experienced a reduction in responsibilities as more and more services have been centralized. This reduces the role of these bodies to rudimentary activities and as conduits of Central Government for the servicing of local communities. In such a context the dependence of Local Authorities on Central Government is symptomatic to the nature of the power relationship between the two bodies.
The system of Local Government in Dominica has a fairly long history and a noble tradition. Beginning as a Board in the capital in the late 19th Century, it now covers the urban areas and all the major rural communities. It has survived several domestic political changes, as well as social and economic transformations at home and abroad.
It can also be said, that Local Government development in Dominica corresponds fairly well to the very nature of island political development from colonial to post-colonial independence. Their growth, structures and roles have changed accordingly as Government travelled the developmental route to its present independent status. Thus as Government moved from traditional functions under colonial administration to its present status, accommodating expanded responsibilities that independence involves, Local Government, must follow a similar path in order for it to completely address the new demands that current development changes bring.
Local Government is a system geared to empower people, hence it is rooted in the doctrine of promoting active participation of the citizens in the development of the country. In this regard many of the social and economic improvements that have occurred in the rural communities, on the island in particular, have been attributed to the hard work of Village Councils. The introduction of Councils in more sub-urban areas such as Mahaut in 1988 and Canefield, 1992, suggests that the importance of Councils to local development is recognised as something that does not only apply to rural development but to the advancement of all communities.
The Department of Local Government and Community Development operates with the motto “Community Development is People in Development”. The existence and active engagement of Local Authorities, therefore, in the development process is germane to this tenet and to the Department’s efforts at pursuing a participatory local development management approach.
We hope that this presentation has contributed somehow to this aim.
Local Government Department
Ministry of Social Services Community Development and Gender Affairs
Commonwealth of Dominica
Tel: (767) 266 3909/449 8615
Fax: (767) 448 4717