Municipal Elections And the Role of a Citizen
Citizen Speaks - Prashant R. Chodankar
Municipal elections to the 11 municipalities in Goa are scheduled to be held on 25th October 2015. By the time, this article is published, the Government would have probably officially declared the total number of wards , the wards reserved for women and also the wards reserved for OBC category.
Importance – Municipal elections play a very important role in the life of an ordinary citizen. In fact, Municipal elections as also Panchayat elections are more important than even the Assembly elections. A few Wards in each municipality or a Panchayat collectively form one or more Assembly constituency/ constituencies. Wards can change the lifestyle of that Councilor as also the people in that ward; depending upon the work that is put up by the Councilor for the development of that particular ward. Every citizen of the ward should list out the work to be done in their ward and put before their candidates before the elections. Performance of that Councilor reflects the performance of the ward and in turn adds to the development of each of the ward under each of the MLA. Before the elections, we see some activities or reforms by the government too. Very often, we see that the number of wards / seats are increased. Sometimes, a particular ward is reserved for a woman candidate or a particular ward is reserved for an OBC candidate and changes are made accordingly to suit the ruling party. Although, the municipal elections in Goa are generally not contested under any party banner, it is obvious that all these candidates barring a few have some political affiliation to one party or other. All this is done by the various parties to have a hold over the assembly elections in future. Average polling / turnout for Municipal elections at most of the centres is around 40%, much lower as compared to Assembly elections. Therefore, it is the duty of each of the citizens to come out in large numbers to vote for the candidate of their choice.
Nature of candidates for the post of Councillors
- Candidates put up by the local or national parties:
These are candidates selected by the party depending upon his integrity, popularity, activities taken up for improvement of the ward and his winning chances. These are candidates which are largely dependent upon their party for his / her finances.
- There have been examples in the past of the candidates, themselves paying a huge sum to the party bosses for getting an election ticket with an assumption that he is sure to win. These are the candidates who depend upon their own finances and borrowed funds.
- There are candidates who contest elections only to gain popularity.
- A few candidates are from business class who want to contest the municipality elections to get an entry into politics.
- There is a class of candidates, who are sponsored by the business houses and who wish to have an indirect control over the administration in municipality.
- There are candidates who are serving councilors who try to project their activities undertaken during their tenure and seek re-election.
- There are individuals who put in all their wealth and contest these elections and get totally eliminated by losing the elections and thereby landing into a poor financial condition.
- Lastly, there is a class of candidates who have devoted all their life for a social cause, working with the people all the time, taking up the matter of their ward with the requisite authorities with self-less goals in mind. These are totally non-corrupt persons of high integrity. These are the candidates who in general, do not like to contest elections and are happy with their present role in the society.
General belief is that, a candidate, howsoever and whatsoever, he may be, as a totally non-corrupt person before getting elected, follows the same path as any other elected leader. If he is non-corrupt, he is cowed down by others to act in a way to only get trapped into their trap and then finds it difficult to come out of it, however hard, he may try.
There are plenty of examples to illustrate this. One will realize that a few members of the political class who amass wealth, were never heard off having so much property/ wealth before getting elected as Panchas, Councilors, MLAs or MPs.
Aims & Objectives:
All the candidates come out with a manifesto showcasing the work/ activities they have done in their ward and what they propose to do once they get elected. Rival candidates try to project what has not been done by the serving Councilor during his/ her tenure in spite of being given an opportunity in the past. He or she tries to justify how he / she is different from the existing Councilor. Whatever activities they do are visible only during the initial period and more often during the end of their tenure.
Politicians feel that public memory is short. However, the voters have now become intelligent. You will see a coterie of people who always move with the Councilors. They are the ones who get their personal work done either legally or illegally. They are also the ones who get the work done for others at a cost which could be in thousands or lakhs.
With the role of media and the RTI activists getting stronger and stronger day by day, it would be a fair idea to project the credentials of each of the candidates before the elections. The Government should also publish the details given by the candidate in the nomination papers submitted by the candidate for further verification. If there are any details which are detrimental to the interest of the general public, people should immediately take suitable action.
Once the candidates are elected as Councilors, a meeting is called to elect the Chairperson. Councilors need to elect the candidate for this post depending upon his integrity, knowledge of administration and capabilities to lead the team. After a particular candidate gets elected, it would be the responsibility of the elected Councilor to get to the job of fulfilling the promises made to the residents of his ward. He / She should continue to remain in touch with his people and take their support wherever required.
The most important aspect of any municipality would be to make the municipality financially strong on its own. For Government sponsored schemes under subsidy, the municipalities receive funds from the State Government and the municipalities release these funds through the medium of banks. While enhancing the taxes or fees, a Councilor has to see to it that a common citizen is not overburdened with taxes.
Each Municipality needs to identify its sources of income and then analyse the data comparing Income as against Sources. Most of the income comes from House-tax, commercial license fees , Sign board tax, land usage tax, etc. etc. Similarly, income from display of sign boards also needs to be looked into. Very often, fees for display of signages is paid only at the time of initial installation. Thereafter, additional boards are also displayed for which no fee is recovered. Sometimes, the sign boards are displayed without any requisite permission. Similarly, house-tax is not recovered in time every year leading to loss of income. With limited number of inspectors at the disposal of the Municipality, this is an herculean task to collect the taxes regularly.
With computerization and modern techniques, it is easy to put in place a system that gives the receivable position at regular intervals. We have seen, how the new private sector banks and finance companies recover their money by employing outsourced agencies. Similar approach has to be followed in recovering the dues by the municipality.
The Chairperson of the Municipality needs to give directions to the Councilors and the Chief Officer and needs to form a few committees under some of the Councilors to give a decent administration. Job of the Councilor should not be restricted to only participating in meetings conducted by the Council. A Councilor should work towards overall development of the area and also help the Municipality in recovering the dues to make it self-sufficient.
What does an ordinary resident need?
- Every family in Goa has a house and pays necessary house-tax. What he needs is a good environment, a good hygiene with a good drainage system.
- A small garden/ recreation centre in the area for the children to play.
- A small community hall or a small library with books on different subjects
- A small market place to make available fish and vegetable items.
- Availability and approach to the Councillor in times of need
- A ration shop nearby which will take care of their monthly requirement to some extent.
Now is the time to choose the right candidate. Exercise your right to vote for the right candidate.
Prashant R. Chodankar