MUNICIPAL COUNCILS – ELECTIONS & SERVICES

Before Independence

An elected municipalité, chaired by an equally elected mayor, operated in each district, during the French period, from 1790 to 1803. The functions included re-construction and repair of places of worship, public works, public health, security in public places and upkeep of public property. Only select males aged 25, and afterwards 21 years were electors. Not before 1948 was franchise extended to all 21 years old and above, including for the first time women, who were able to sign in any language in use in Mauritius. In 1959, universal suffrage was introduced. The voting age was lowered to 18 years in 1974.
The Port-Louis Municipal Corporation, the country’s first elected public body, was created in 1849. Its charter was modelled on French legislation. Improvement works, valuation of property, fire protection, regulation of weights and measures, police, water supply and cemetery upkeep were its main concern. The Mayor’s Court judged those contravening municipal laws and regulations. The mayor exercised considerable powers.

Between 1889 and 1896, a Governor-appointed board of commissioners headed by an equally appointed chairman was set up in Curepipe (1890), Beau Bassin-Rose Hill (1896) and Quatre Bornes (1896). Its duties comprised “the making, management, maintenance and improvement of all roads, streets, footpaths, bridges, sewers, canals and other works of public utility.” The three boards became partly elected town councils in 1950.
Following the publication of the Keith-Lucas Report in 1956, the power for holding elections, so far exercised by the local authorities, was transferred to the Electoral Commissioner. His office was responsible for, besides the electors’ registration, the conduct of legislative and local government elections. The Representation of the People Ordinance 1958 provides for the holding of these elections. However, the conditions about electors and candidates are laid down in the main local government enactment. As from 1968, the Electoral Supervisory Commission exercises its powers for not only  legislative, but also municipal and village council, elections.  
After the creation in 1959 of the Ministry of Local Government, the Local Government Ordinance consolidating, and supplementing, the municipal, town, district and village council enactments was passed in 1962. The three townships were considerably enlarged in 1963. Vacoas-Phoenix was then proclaimed a town.
 
After Independence

In 1968, the four town authorities also became municipal councils, and their political heads mayors. Introduced in 1903, the ward system in the capital was abolished in 1923. Since 1969, 30 councillors in Port-Louis and 24 in each of the four urban councils are elected on the basis of wards.
Voted in 1975 and operational since 1983. the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) is vested with exclusive powers for the appointment of local government employees, disciplinary control, dismissal and approval of retirement. The municipal, as the district, council remains the employer. The Prime Minister appointed the LGSC’s chairman, and the Local Government Minister the four members. Since 2003, the President of the Republic is empowered to appoint both the chairman and the members.
The municipal functions, as spelt out in the 1962 law and which are still valid, embrace public health, roads and bridges, housing and town planning, welfare services and some trading undertakings, besides licensing and control. The 1989 Act incorporates a major part of the former one. Municipal, as well as district, councils no longer control and manage public beaches. Their additional responsibilities include pre-primary schooling and parking for private vehicles, besides the control of pollution and hawking and of premises used for commercial, industrial, professional and other approved purposes. The town clerk, as the district council secretary, has become CEO. The Minister of Local Government approves the salary structure and service conditions of local government employees, whilst the permanent secretary (PS) is entrusted with new personnel powers. The mandate of all local authorities was of five years, in the stead of three earlier.
Between 1 December 2003 and 7 August 2004, only some 50 of the 148 sections of the Act 2003 were proclaimed. The PS is the CEO’s responsible officer. A Permits and Licences Committee, chaired by the CEO or his representative, and four heads of department designated by him, has been set up “for execution of the Building Act and the Town and Country Planning Act” regarding “the relevant building, structure or tenement ..or…the land .. to be developed.”
According to Section 3 of the Local Government (Amendment) Act 2005, “Subject to the Representation of the People Act, an election of municipal councillors shall be held in 2005, and thereafter in every succeeding fifth year….” It was earlier provided that it would take place “…in the year 2004 and thereafter every 6 years….”

Concluding Remarks

Trustees of the electorate, members need ensure that the council is run transparently and responsibly. Continual accountability to the public is expected of them. It is the duty of cadres to give professional support and advice to them in their commitment to make the town an increasingly better place to live in. The public needs be given the opportunity to comment on the quality and the kind of services or facilities provided. Citizens directly and indirectly finance the municipal councils constituted by their elected representatives. Apathetic about municipal administration, a good number of them abstain from voting at election time. Their interest should be awakened in municipal affairs. Members and employees should always project an attractive image of the council. Municipal activities and infrastructure should be in response to the inhabitants’ needs and aspirations that keep changing. Citizens look for faultless, prompt, transparent, courteous and personalised services and facilities provided economically, efficiently and effectively.