Re­form ur­gent more than ever

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - McPherse Thomp­son 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.

JA­MAICA’S TWO ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the Ja­maica Labour Party and the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party, the pri­mary com­peti­tors in the forth­com­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, have con­tin­u­ously com­mit­ted to em­power peo­ple at the grass-roots level to par­tic­i­pate in gov­er­nance of their com­mu­ni­ties, only to re­vert to busi­ness at usual fol­low­ing the polls.

At­tempts have been made for at least the last 17 years to fun­da­men­tally trans­form the lo­cal gov­ern­ment sys­tem to essen­tially make lo­cal au­thor­i­ties more au­ton­o­mous and re­spon­sive to their cit­i­zenry.

But as we head into an­other poll with essen­tially the same prom­ises by the old guard, Ja­maica doesn’t ap­pear to be any closer to achiev­ing those goals, at least not in the eyes of many of the elec­torate, ei­ther be­cause of a fail­ure or un­will­ing­ness on the part of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties at the par­lia­men­tary level and the par­tic­i­pants at the level of lo­cal gov­er­nance.

As else­where, many peo­ple ap­pear to share the view that, with­out ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy, it will be very dif­fi­cult for lo­cal gov­ern­ment to carry out its con­sti­tu­tional man­date to the peo­ple at the com­mu­nity level.

It should be noted that the Con­sti­tu­tion (Amend­ment) (Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment) Act, in keeping with rec­om­men­da­tions made in the Au­gust 1993 Re­port on the Con­sti­tu­tion of Ja­maica, and the May 1995 fi­nal re­port of the Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee of the Houses of Par­lia­ment on Con­sti­tu­tional and Elec­toral Re­form, was not passed un­til some­time last year.

That de­spite the par­ties ac­knowl­edg­ing that pas­sage of the bill is a “ba­sic foun­da­tion” for en­sur­ing the con­ti­nu­ity of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment sys­tem and the ben­e­fits that lo­cal gov­er­nance brings to com­mu­ni­ties and the cit­i­zenry.

The par­ties and the po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive arms of the lo­cal au­thor­ity also ap­pear to per­ceive lo­cal gov­ern­ment as the more vi­able in­stru­ment for ru­ral trans­for­ma­tion and for the de­liv­ery of so­cial ser­vices to the peo­ple in lo­calised re­gions.

How­ever, de­spite these di­vi­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ strate­gic im­por­tance to na­tional de­vel­op­ment and the fact that their roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties cover a num­ber of health, en­vi­ron­men­tal and de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues, to many peo­ple, their con­tri­bu­tion has been min­i­mal.

An­a­lysts agree that the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of lo­cal gov­ern­ment thus far de­rives partly, if not pri­mar­ily, from the ex­ces­sive cen­tral-gov­ern­ment con­trol and the fact that their func­tions and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties have in some cases been hi­jacked by mem­bers of par­lia­ment or state agen­cies.

ROLES AND FUNC­TIONS

The role and func­tions of the lo­cal au­thor­ity is a mul­ti­func­tional one, in that they are em­pow­ered to make by­laws, reg­u­la­tions and rules for the good gov­er­nance of the parishes over which they have ju­ris­dic­tion.

As the Min­istry of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment notes, among the spe­cific re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the coun­cils are:

De­vel­op­ing, man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing in­fras­truc­ture and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties such as parochial roads, wa­ter sup­plies, drains and gul­lies, parks, recre­ational cen­tres, mar­kets, abat­toirs, pounds, ceme­ter­ies, trans­porta­tion cen­tres, pub­lic san­i­tary con­ve­niences and pub­lic beaches.

Pro­vi­sion of lo­cal ser­vices such as poor re­lief, pub­lic cleans­ing, pub­lic health, street light­ing.

Sup­port of na­tional poli­cies/de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes at the lo­cal level.

Spear­head plans and ini­tia­tives for the or­derly, bal­anced and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of the par­ish as a whole, and ma­jor towns in par­tic­u­lar, and for boost­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and lo­cal wealth cre­ation within the par­ish.

These are not triv­ial ar­eas to be treated as ir­rel­e­vant by per­sons who choose not to ex­er­cise their demo­cratic right and for which the po­lit­i­cal ac­tors and ad­min­is­tra­tors can just pass the buck. These re­quire ac­tion that will re­dound to the ben­e­fit of com­mu­ni­ties.

Vot­ers need to take stock of the re­mit of lo­cal gov­ern­ment and choose whomever they be­lieve will de­liver when they go to the polls in the next two weeks.

Pub­lic cleans­ing is just one of many bug­bears for com­mu­ni­ties across the is­land, not just in Manch­ester, Claren­don and St El­iz­a­beth, as one of the par­ties sug­gested, but in ar­eas such as St Cather­ine, where garbage has not been col­lected for weeks.

With the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion in 2015, three years af­ter the last se­cond-tier elec­tion, lo­cal gov­ern­ment was en­trenched in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Will the Gov­ern­ment and by ex­ten­sion the par­ties now make the nec­es­sary re­sources avail­able to the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties so they can un­der­take their man­date?

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