The big elec­tion yawn

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Daniel Th­waites is an at­tor­ney-at­law. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

ra­tio­nale for lo­cal govern­ment is, I also know what the re­al­ity is, and so too, we can be cer­tain, do many other ci­ti­zens. And that’s why they largely ig­nore the lo­cal polls.

In the­ory, par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are meant to be con­cen­trat­ing on the big pic­ture, re­view­ing and pass­ing laws, and tend­ing to na­tional busi­ness. Coun­cil­lors, in the­ory, will tend to the lo­cal ser­vices like drain clean­ing, road re­pair, garbage col­lec­tion, and a mul­ti­tude of other more parochial con­cerns.

In re­al­ity, this is not only far from what hap­pens, but you could say that the the­ory and the re­al­ity have had a bit­ter and ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorce. MPs are in­ti­mately in­volved in the plan­ning, mon­i­tor­ing and, sadly, all too of­ten, the dis­tri­bu­tion of work and ben­e­fits.

As de­mand for wel­fare ben­e­fits has al­ways out­stripped sup­ply, and likely al­ways will, it’s a doomed for­mula. But they’re stuck. So they just con­tin­u­ously day­dream of the par­adise of a big­ger Con­stituency Devel­op­ment Fund to sat­isfy the de­mands, and rel­ish the lit­tle trough they do have, the weighty ful­mi­na­tions of The Gleaner not­with­stand­ing.

And that’s even be­fore look­ing at the con­tin­ued de­mo­li­tion of the bet­ter parts of our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that this prac­tice has ac­tively en­cour­aged or ac­cel­er­ated. For it en­gen­ders de­pen­dency, ser­vil­ity and, ul­ti­mately, dis­ap­point­ment, re­sent­ment and anger.


Please re­call that quite early on, the newly minted par­lia­men­tar­ian Damion Craw­ford com­plained bit­terly about re­al­is­ing his pow­er­less­ness as an MP. He was curtly re­minded that this was the work for which he had been hired by con­stituents: to be a beggar-in-chief, rice bowl in hand to state bu­reau­crats. It is a known and con­ve­niently cel­e­brated fea­ture of our sys­tem that the best MP is the MP who begs best.

So when McPherse asks us to “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”, I re­spect­fully ac­knowl­edge that as an ex­pres­sion of some kind of mag­nif­i­cent ide­al­ism. If that were true, per­haps we might live to wit­ness a Par­lia­ment work­ing hard to mod­ernise our laws even when there isn’t an IMF whip crack­ing over their col­lec­tive backs. But as of now, a man can with­hold a gun wanted for a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion on pain of a mere $1-mil­lion fine.

By the way, we’ve been hear­ing about ‘lo­cal govern­ment re­form’ for so long, be­cause it ac­tu­ally means noth­ing at this point. As MPs have in­jected them­selves into the role of coun­cil­lors, lo­cal func­tions have been largely swal­lowed up by na­tional in­sti­tu­tions. So the NSWMA deals with the garbage, the NWA deals with the roads, and the Min­istry of Labour and So­cial Se­cu­rity has mostly over­taken poor re­lief.

I should add that I in­tend to vote, and en­cour­age oth­ers to con­sider it se­ri­ously. But that is more out of stub­born­ness and as a re­sult of ha­bit­u­a­tion, not be­cause of any con­vic­tion that lo­cal govern­ment will ever use its ini­tia­tive to make any earth-shat­ter­ing changes, or, really, even mod­est ones. We big kids can move past that par­tic­u­lar con­ceit.


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