A delegation from the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) government was in Eleuthera for two days in March, on a visit to experience the inner workings of several local government councils on the island, as part of a partnership with the Bahamian government to advance the efforts of the Turks and Caicos Islands to complete the implementation of local government within their country.
The TCI group accompanied by officials from the Department of Local Government in New Providence, including Administrator Lynton Pinder, Acting Permanent Secretary, Neil Campbell, as well as Minister for Local Government, Clay Sweeting, arrived in the South Eleuthera district on Monday morning, March 20th, stopping in first with the South Eleuthera District council.
The delegation from TCI watched and listened attentively as the South Eleuthera District Council held a regular meeting, and the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Department of Local Government, Mr. Neil Campbell, stepped in at different points during the discussion to highlight a particular concept or to underscore how something was done – for the benefit of the fact-finding delegates attending.
Administrator Lynton Pinder, with the Nassau Office, describing how the visit to The Bahamas came about, explained, “Sometime in the latter part of 2022, the Turks and Caicos government reached out to The Bahamas, requesting assistance with the implementation of local government in TCI. Our model was one of the many they had reviewed, and had reached out to many nations, asking for their assistance or their input. Based on my understanding from TCI, we were one of the first countries to respond, and because of the demographics of our nation in comparison to TCI, our model was ideal for them to study and to consider for implementation. Since that time the dialogue has continued, and we have already had a delegation visit TCI. I was a part of that contingent – that took place in January 2023, and the dialogue continued to point where we are now. This delegation is now here again for a second time, studying our model and seeing the way the Family Island Administrator interacts with the Council – and how the local government practitioners make it all happen, in partnership with the central government.”
The four-member TCI delegation in Eleuthera included: Frederico Johnson, Deputy Permanent Secretary; Tiann Thomas, Deputy Permanent Secretary; Yvette Cox, District Commissioner; and Bernadine Smith, Ministry Administrative Officer. In a brief interview, following the South Eleuthera district meeting, DPS Johnson of TCI, providing further detail on what they wanted to achieve through their visit to The Bahamas, explained, “We have taken a look at the Act, as well as the manual, and now we are getting to see it in action. We’ve been studying it for a while and seeing the different schedules and the breakdowns, it has really put it more into perspective for us… We looked at other local governments from around the region, where they have the mainland, but The Bahamas is unique for us because of the make up – where it has central government on one island and local governments on smaller islands, and you are separated by sea… Currently, we have a similar make up, where we have District Commissioners on the smaller islands, who are similar to The Bahamas’ Island Administrators. The role is interchangeable, so we already have some of the structure in place. It is just the local government councils side that we want to now put in place… We are looking to complete implementation of local government within the Turks and Caicos within this calendar year, so by the next financial year we are able to fully launch it.”
Following the South Eleuthera District meeting, TCI DPS Frederico Johnson commented to the councilors still sitting around the table, saying, “You all have put a lot of things into perspective. You could have bypassed a lot things, and we appreciate that you brought it to the forefront for us to actually witness it. We appreciate the fact that you stopped, breaking it down and gave more perspective to different concepts. From this meeting, a lot of the questions that we had have been answered. Hopefully, we can exchange numbers and continue to further the work that we are going to do and continue to pick your brains. We just want to say thank you.”
Minister Clay Sweeting, with responsibility for Local Government throughout The Bahamas, who would travel with the delegation beyond Eleuthera, explained that the group had begun their mission in Exuma before arriving in Central and South Eleuthera on the Monday, and would move on to interact with the councils in North Eleuthera the following day. “We have introduced them to the legislation, the rules and procedures manual and all of that, to see how best they can use them in their implementation. We are also making them aware of our challenges, so their local government would be the best form we feel could be established… We have also shared with them the amendments we are looking at making next year,” said Minister Sweeting.
About the ongoing work with the amendments of the Local Government Act in the Bahamas, Minister Sweeting, added, “The committees have submitted their findings, which have been sent to the Attorney General’s Office to see how best we can help to strengthen our local government system as well.”
Among the amendments under review currently, the notion of ‘revenue raising powers’ by local government councils was one of great interest. Minister Sweeting informed, “That is one we are definitely looking at. We are waiting for the Attorney General’s office to send back their recommendations on how to implement these different areas. Also, Finance will have a say on how ‘revenue raising powers’ would be most efficiently and effectively implemented for the Family Islands. It is definitely one of the top things we want to make amendments to in the Act.”
Answering the question of what ‘revenue raising powers’ would generally look like for local councils, Minister Sweeting replied, “A local council in theory would have projects that they want to do within their communities, whether capital or others, like cleanups, which they have no funding to do. They would raise revenue by either donations or having functions to raise money in that regard… We are looking at a structural management program – and whatever they collect, the central government would receive a percentage (still to be decided), to be able to assist other islands, who may not be able to raise funds the way some of the other districts may.” As an example he compared Exuma, to the much smaller island of Mayaguana.
Further describing some of the other local government amendments under consideration and the process to-date, Minister Sweeting, stated, “For the amendments process, we sent a committee to meet with all islands, and all councils throughout the country, and we took their recommendations on how they would like it to be… In all of the islands we still have the hotel licensing and the road traffic board, and we are looking for ways to beef up these decisions for them. We are also looking at possibly structuring it a little bit differently. Some councils made recommendations for a mayor – to be the name, instead of a chief councilor. Other councils and island communities took that recommendation even further for the mayor to be elected by themselves and empowered more. We also looked at stipends as well – to increase the stipends for the local councils. So there are a lot of moving parts. We will bring it all together into what makes sense, and what is feasible and workable – and then we will bring it to Cabinet for approval and hopefully to the House of Assembly.”