For bet­ter lo­cal gov’t

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Th­waites FROM THE BACK BENCH Ron­ald Th­waites is mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Cen­tral Kingston and op­po­si­tion spokesper­son on ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

WHAT IS the real re­mit of the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors we are go­ing to elect next Mon­day? Apart from the slo­gans and the dis­putes about the past, do we yet have a clear, sim­ple set of ob­jec­tives to which lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tions will com­mit to achieve?

Ab­sent such a ba­sis for choice, you end up vot­ing for a tribe, a per­son­al­ity or, very likely, you don’t bother to ex­er­cise your fran­chise. This time round, we need to do bet­ter. Here are a few sug­ges­tions.

Who­ever comes with a rad­i­cal plan for keep­ing Ja­maica clean is wor­thy of sup­port. It is em­bar­rass­ing that af­ter 54 years of na­tion­hood, we are still squab­bling about how to dis­pose and process our waste and, ul­ti­mately, fail­ing to do so. In­nercity Kingston has sel­dom been nas­tier than in re­cent times.

The mu­nic­i­pal author­i­ties ought to re­take re­spon­si­bil­ity for solid waste, with the Na­tional Solid Waste Management Au­thor­ity re­treat­ing to a reg­u­la­tory role. Each coun­cil­lor should take per­sonal re­mit to lead a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion thrust in favour of clean­li­ness and healthy liv­ing, and be the mon­i­tor of the per­for­mance of garbage con­trac­tors in his or her divi­sion.

Any coun­cil­lor who can­not, or will not, or does not, un­der­take this ba­sic task of com­mu­nity or­der ought not to be a coun­cil­lor.

Then there is the vexed is­sue of street light­ing. Es­pe­cially in in­nercity ar­eas, very many street lights do not work. Word is that there is a tar­iff that has to be paid, whether or not the lights work, or even if they burn day and night. Surely, this has to be rene­go­ti­ated, and a coun­cil­lor should be re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing the ef­fi­cient func­tion­ing of street lights in each divi­sion.

Af­ter 20 years in rep­re­sen­ta­tive pol­i­tics, I still do not un­der­stand the dis­tinc­tion be­tween main roads and mu­nic­i­pal roads, ex­cept that any­where the JUTC bus uses is a Na­tional Works Agency road. The divi­sion of labour needs to be clar­i­fied re­gard­ing re­pair and main­te­nance. Most times, ac­count­abil­ity for road main­te­nance falls be­tween the two poles of au­thor­ity.

Within an agreed bud­get, a coun­cil­lor must have a say and be held to ac­count for set­ting pri­or­i­ties for in­fras­truc­ture up­grad­ing. The prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity dic­tates that a higher au­thor­ity should not over­take lo­cal com­pe­tence.

CHAL­LENG­ING CAN­DI­DATES

Add to the above list the other sub­jects of im­por­tance ap­pro­pri­ate to your vicin­ity and chal­lenge your can­di­dates as to their com­mit­ment to achieve them.

If we are se­ri­ous about lo­cal gov­er­nance, the coun­cils should be placed on a path of in­creas­ing au­ton­omy, even­tu­ally eclips­ing the need for a Min­istry of Lo­cal Govern­ment. As it is now, they are the poor cousins of a lessthan-ef­fi­cient sys­tem.

To prop­erly fund fully en­abled mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the ba­sis of cal­cu­lat­ing prop­erty taxes must be con­sid­ered. Levy­ing on unim­proved value while the ser­vices ex­pected are re­lated to im­proved value makes no sense. Over a pe­riod of five to 10 years, a com­pre­hen­sive reval­u­a­tion should be un­der­taken.

This week could be the start of a thor­ough dis­cus­sion of what the na­tional in­ter­est needs lo­cal govern­ment to be­come, in­stead of the de­fen­sive­ness and mud­sling­ing which have char­ac­terised the cam­paign thus far.

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