Hands-off ap­proach to lo­cal govern­ment not the an­swer

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - McPherse Thomp­son Geust Colum­nist Mcpherse Thomp­son is As­sis­tant Busi­ness Editor at The Gleaner and holds a PhD in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and mcpherse.thomp­son@glean­erjm.com

AMONG THE con­ver­sa­tions re­peated ad in­fini­tum, and un­der dis­cus­sion as I write this piece, is the lack of garbage col­lec­tion in town­ships and other com­mu­ni­ties across Ja­maica.

One of the rea­sons for de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion – the trans­fer of pow­ers, author­ity, func­tions, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the req­ui­site re­sources from cen­tral govern­ment to lo­cal govern­ment – was the spread of mul­ti­party po­lit­i­cal sys­tems in many coun­tries, which cre­ated de­mand for more lo­cal voice in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

In coun­tries such as Africa, de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion was a re­sponse to pres­sures from re­gional and eth­nic groups for more con­trol and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal process, a ra­tio­nale which is not lost on the di­verse so­cial and eco­nomic groups in Ja­maica and the rest of the Caribbean.

Re­searchers have ar­gued that lo­cal democ­racy not only pro­vided greater op­por­tu­ni­ties for po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion but that it was an in­stru­ment of so­cial in­clu­sion. Oth­ers have sug­gested that those elected to na­tional govern­ment are too far re­moved from lo­cal un­der­stand­ing to make ef­fec­tive de­ci­sions for a com­mu­nity.

Yet, em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence sug­gests that many elec­tors in Ja­maica con­tinue to take a hands-off ap­proach where the vote for lo­cal govern­ment is con­cerned, al­low­ing other peo­ple to make de­ci­sions about how things should be done and avoid, to their peril, be­com­ing di­rectly in­volved.

Some sug­gest that lo­cal govern­ment au­thor­i­ties have largely been usurped by cen­tral govern­ment and that coun­cil­lors now en­gage in mere ac­tivism in their com­mu­nity and the wider con­stituency for their re­spec­tive par­ties, and hence see no good rea­son to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­cratic process.

Any­one so in­clined to think, how­ever, should seek to make him or her­self more aware of the ra­tio­nale for lo­cal govern­ment and make the ef­fort to hold their lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ac­count for the func­tions they have been man­dated to un­der­take. For ex­am­ple, rather than moan­ing about pay­ing more land taxes, which is not go­ing to go away any­time soon, vot­ers can en­sure that their prop­erty taxes and other fi­nanc­ing from cen­tral govern­ment which pro­vide rev­enues for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are used for the pur­poses for which they are in­tended.

THE BIG­GEST IM­PACT

Vot­ers need to be re­minded that their lo­cal govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives are the in­di­vid­u­als whom they can di­rectly get to ad­dress com­mu­nity-re­lated is­sues, and be mindful that mem­bers of par­lia­ment, in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter, have been elected to make laws, rather than at­tend­ing to the bread-and-but­ter po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Some vot­ers ne­glect the lo­cal polls although that’s where in­di­vid­ual votes can make the big­gest im­pact on their com­mu­nity, the place where they have in­ter­ests in com­mon.

Con­sider also that while gen­eral elec­tions are con­sti­tu­tion­ally due ev­ery five years, you have a chance to vote at the lo­cal elec­tions ev­ery three years, notwith­stand­ing de­fer­ments by re­spec­tive ad­min­is­tra­tions to use it as a test of their readi­ness for gen­eral elec­tions.

So why should you should vote in the up­com­ing lo­cal elec­tions? You should vote be­cause lo­cal is­sues such as main­te­nance of pub­lic health and san­i­ta­tion, water sup­ply, mi­nor roads, and mar­kets and fire ser­vices for which parish coun­cils are re­spon­si­ble af­fect in­di­vid­u­als in one way or an­other on a rel­a­tively daily ba­sis.

The re­cur­ring lack of garbage col­lec­tion across sec­tions of the is­land is a sit­u­a­tion which leads the Min­istry of Health to point out the ob­vi­ous: it poses sig­nif­i­cant threat to health as it could lead to an out­break of var­i­ous ill­nesses, in­clud­ing lep­tospiro­sis, dengue and cholera if the garbage is not con­tained, a state to­day eerily rem­i­nis­cent of the sit­u­a­tion of years gone by.

It’s our health to which the Min­istry re­ferred. Re­call the out­break of chikun­gunya virus, which can lead to dengue, and the more re­cent Zika virus, both spread through mos­quito bites? They might very well have been bred in water set­tled in garbage piles and in blocked drains and gul­lies – some with stag­nant water - for which coun­cil­lors are also re­spon­si­ble.

It is the role and func­tion of your coun­cil­lor to ag­gres­sively rep­re­sent the con­cerns of the cit­i­zens of his or her di­vi­sion and make rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the parish coun­cil in such mat­ters.

So many peo­ple fail to use their demo­cratic rights, so much so that they may as well not have them. Think about the coun­try you want to live in. Imag­ine what kind of is­sues in your com­mu­nity you want ad­dressed. You have a good chance of mak­ing it all hap­pen if you stay tuned to what’s go­ing on in your com­mu­nity. So when the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions are called, go out and vote.

Sup­port­ers of a Pak­istani op­po­si­tion party Pak­istan Tehreek-e-Insaf wave party flags while tak­ing part in a rally in Islamabad, Pak­istan, yes­ter­day. Thou­sands of sup­port­ers of a Pak­istani op­po­si­tion leader gath­ered in the cap­i­tal to cel­e­brate a top court’s rul­ing, which asked Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif to sub­mit a writ­ten re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions that mem­bers of his fam­ily were hold­ing off­shore bank ac­counts.

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