Can lo­cal gov’t elec­tions mean some­thing?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

OUR HOPE of sti­fling a yawn for this lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions by hav­ing the can­di­dates dis­cuss sub­stan­tive is­sues is a wish, head­ing, it ap­pears, for ig­no­min­ious dis­ap­point­ment. At least, the cam­paign is start­ing that way.

On Thurs­day, while the lo­cal govern­ment min­is­ter, Des­mond McKen­zie, was an­nounc­ing the Novem­ber 28 date for Ja­maicans to vote for mem­bers of the par­ish and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils, his shadow, Noel Arscott, as at the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) head­quar­ters, was fram­ing their cam­paign as one tar­get­ing the “failed prom­ises” of a na­tional govern­ment that has been in of­fice for eight months.

On Tues­day, in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Mr Arscott was whinge­ing about the al­leged fail­ure by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­lease funds to the par­ish coun­cils, all 12 of which are now con­trolled by the PNP. The al­le­ga­tion was re­peated by Mr Arscott and party col­leagues.

PLAY­ING POL­I­TICS

“Is the Govern­ment play­ing pol­i­tics with peo­ple’s lives?” Mr Arscott asked in the House.

On Fri­day, Mr McKen­zie’s re­tort was that the par­ish coun­cil hoped for the re­lease of money for var­i­ous projects with­out ap­pro­pri­ate doc­u­men­ta­tion and ac­count­abil­ity, which the gov­ern­ing Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) wouldn’t coun­te­nance.

“This JLP ad­min­is­tra­tion will up­hold the pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures of good gov­er­nance, and we will de­liver our promised pros­per­ity for all with­out flout­ing the rules of gov­er­nance as the PNP has,” he said.

The die of fatu­ous al­le­ga­tions and coun­ter­claims is, if not as yet ir­re­vo­ca­bly cast, in dan­ger of quickly be­com­ing so, un­less vot­ers in­sist oth­er­wise. They should.

This news­pa­per has not, for a long time, been in sup­port of the main­te­nance of the par­ish coun­cils. They have, which­ever party is in con­trol of them, largely been in­com­pe­tently man­aged and used as a con­duit through which small-scale pa­tron­age is fun­nelled to the po­lit­i­cal hard core, the 30 per cent of the elec­torate who gen­er­ally vote.

It is not only that the streets of our cities and towns are garbagestrewn, verges over­grown, drains dirty, and pub­lic spa­ces dis­or­derly. Worse is the fact that in the ma­jor­ity of cases, coun­cil­lors ap­pear not to no­tice, and nei­ther do they ap­pear to have ideas for the trans­for­ma­tion of their di­vi­sions, towns, cities or parishes. At least, they do not ar­tic­u­late any. Coun­cil­lors per­form not as rep­re­sen­ta­tives in their own right, but as fac­to­tums for na­tional MPs.

MAN­AGERS HELD AC­COUNT­ABLE

That, in part, is the back­drop against which this news­pa­per is pro­mot­ing elim­i­nat­ing par­ish coun­cils and re­plac­ing them with pro­fes­sional city and re­gional man­agers, ac­count­able to com­pe­tent boards. When Par­lia­ment passed leg­is­la­tion to ex­pand the author­ity of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the right, in some cir­cum­stances, to bor­row money, we thought that this might be a sig­nal for chang­ing the dis­course about mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment. Maybe those who of­fered them­selves as can­di­dates would have ideas about the struc­ture of com­mu­ni­ties in which they wished to live and what might be done to at­tract in­vest­ment and jobs to their cities and towns.

That hasn’t hap­pened. We de­spair it will, but we would be pleased to be proven wrong. Then peo­ple many be­gin to see some value in lo­cal govern­ment be­yond as sources of cor­rup­tion and the de­liv­ery of thin sliv­ers of po­lit­i­cal pork.

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