Re­form can’t wait

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE -

ALL POL­I­TICS is lo­cal. This phrase as­so­ci­ated with a for­mer speaker of the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive is in­ter­preted as sage advice from a sea­soned cam­paigner about how to con­nect with vot­ers at the lo­cal level to achieve longevity in pol­i­tics.

If we take this apho­rism to re­fer to the re­la­tion­ship of lo­cal vot­ers and their parish and mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tion, lo­cal govern­ment re­form is ur­gently needed here. We have lis­tened keenly to the an­nounce­ments of the cur­rent min­is­ter, Des­mond McKen­zie, and we ap­plaud his di­rec­tion.

The estab­lish­ment of a Land Di­vest­ment Com­mit­tee to en­sure that the sale or lease of mu­nic­i­pal lands is trans­par­ent and con­ducted within the am­bit of the law is a good thing. The estab­lish­ment of au­dit com­mit­tees in lo­cal coun­cils, the pro­posed pro­cure­ment rules, and quar­terly re­port­ing re­quire­ments are also to be com­mended.

There has been min­i­mal in­ter­est in past lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions, judg­ing from the num­bers that show up to the polls to vote. In March 2012, a mere 34 per cent of the elec­torate voted. And in 2007, the fig­ure was slightly bet­ter at 42 per cent.

It re­mains to be seen whether there will be an im­prove­ment this time around. Some com­men­ta­tors con­tend that Ja­maicans, hav­ing just come out of the gen­eral elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary, are bat­tle-worn and may not bother to go out to vote.

There are oth­ers who strongly be­lieve that their vote will not make a dif­fer­ence be­cause the prob­lems of ne­glect, wa­ter woes and di­lap­i­dated roads will re­main de­spite the re­sults. It is not dif­fi­cult to see why some vot­ers have be­come turned off. Too of­ten the in­for­ma­tion com­ing out of these coun­cils demon­strates how ill-pre­pared some of the coun­cil­lors are for gov­er­nance. They tend to fo­cus on small, in­con­se­quen­tial items, in­stead of tack­ling the big prob­lems that cre­ate so much frus­tra­tion for res­i­dents. When will we get to the point where each coun­cil has a strate­gic plan to present to its cit­i­zens?

REL­E­VANT QUES­TIONS

We urge vot­ers to take time to as­sess the qual­ity of democ­racy in their com­mu­ni­ties. Think per­for­mance and abil­ity be­fore think­ing party.

Some of the rel­e­vant ques­tions must in­clude whether coun­cils are func­tion­ing ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently. Are there con­flict-of-in­ter­est mat­ters af­fect­ing the op­er­a­tion of the coun­cils? Is there weak management? Is there cor­rup­tion oc­cur­ring at the lo­cal coun­cil? How clean is the com­mu­nity? Are drains cleared reg­u­larly?

For those who feel im­po­tent to do any­thing about some of these chal­lenges, do not for­get the mech­a­nisms to get ques­tions an­swered and ac­tion taken. State ac­tors such as the con­trac­tor gen­eral, po­lit­i­cal om­buds­man and the pub­lic de­fender, although seated in the cap­i­tal, Kingston, are avail­able to all Ja­maica and are there to right some of the wrongs that be­set so­ci­ety.

Most com­mit­tee meet­ings are open to the pub­lic, and res­i­dents should make it their duty to at­tend these meet­ings so that coun­cil­lors un­der­stand that the com­mu­nity has an in­ter­est in the busi­ness they are con­duct­ing and which has to be done in a trans­par­ent man­ner.

What we are sug­gest­ing, there­fore, is that the an­swer lies not in shun­ning the elec­tions. One should vote and then hold the elected of­fi­cials ac­count­able and see that they ful­fil their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Good gov­er­nance un­der­pins a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing strate­gic plan­ning, main­te­nance and re­pairs to in­fras­truc­ture such as roads and bridges, beau­ti­fi­ca­tion, solid waste management and se­cu­rity. If this be­gins at the com­mu­nity level, it will en­sure or­der through­out the is­land.

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