De­bates could re­verse low voter turnout in lo­cal gov’t elec­tions

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - An­dré Poyser Staff Re­porter an­dre.poyser@glean­erjm.com

CHAIR­MAN OF the Ja­maica De­bates Com­mis­sion (JDC), Noel DaCosta, has ex­pressed op­ti­mism that the lo­cal govern­ment de­bates planned for Novem­ber 16 and 23 will in­crease the level of aware­ness about the im­por­tance of parish and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils.

“This is our sec­ond at­tempt at hav­ing lo­cal govern­ment de­bates, and we hope that is­sues af­fect­ing the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties will be ex­plored,” he said, while ad­dress­ing a spe­cial-edi­tion Gleaner Ed­i­tors’ Fo­rum held at the news­pa­per’s North Street of­fices yes­ter­day.

DaCosta ex­pressed con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of the de­bates to re­verse the his­tor­i­cally low voter turnout as­so­ci­ated with lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions.

“I think the de­bates can ac­tu­ally help with that, and that is one of the rea­sons why we are ex­pend­ing this ef­fort to put them on. It is go­ing to be on tele­vi­sion, in the gen­eral news me­dia, and peo­ple will re­act to it, and be­cause it is be­ing staged be­fore the ac­tual vot­ing, we are hop­ing that this will gen­er­ate more in­ter­est and more par­tic­i­pa­tion,” he said.

His­to­rian and for­mer govern­ment min­is­ter Arnold Ber­tram, how­ever, ar­gued that the low voter turnout in lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions is a re­flec­tion of the lack of con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to de­liver ser­vices ef­fec­tively.

Po­lit­i­cal Om­buds­man Donna Parch­ment Brown noted that there are sev­eral pos­i­tives to be high­lighted about the work that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties do, but said that there needs to be greater aware­ness and en­gage­ment of the pub­lic in this re­gard.

Deputy chair of the JDC, Brian Schmidt, who was also present at the fo­rum, dis­closed that the com­mis­sion would be em­bark­ing on a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign.

“Our so­cial-me­dia cam­paign is sched­uled to start on Wed­nes­day. One of the ob­jec­tives is to ex­pose to the pub­lic in bites what the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of lo­cal govern­ment are, be­cause, quite frankly, we don’t think the pub­lic knows or un­der­stands how far the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lo­cal govern­ment goes,” he said.

While de­clin­ing to pre­dict the im­pact that the de­bates would have on voter turnout, Schmidt noted that the long-term strat­egy of the JDC, through the stag­ing of po­lit­i­cal de­bates, was to see more peo­ple reg­is­ter to vote and be­come more en­gaged in the po­lit­i­cal process.

– com­mis­sion chair­man

SCHMIDT PUB­LIC ED­U­CA­TION

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