Gov­er­nance and ac­count­abil­ity at the com­mu­nity level

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - 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 McPherse Thomp­son

IN THE few days be­fore Ja­maicans go to the polls to elect lo­cal gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, vot­ers should use the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented on the cam­paign trail by con­tenders on both sides of the political spec­trum to de­ter­mine what are their strate­gies for in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties, whether they are suc­cess­ful or not.

This is the time when one might hear con­stituents ut­ter­ing the com­mon re­frain about in­cum­bents and care­tak­ers, as they were up to nom­i­na­tion day when they for­mally be­came con­tes­tants: “the only time you see them is elec­tion (cam­paign) time”.

Of course, that might not nec­es­sar­ily be the case for those political rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing mem­bers of par­lia­ment, who make a con­certed ef­fort to be in their con­stituen­cies or at their con­stituency of­fices at least once a week.

Notwith­stand­ing that, how many per­sons have even heard of a coun­cil­lor who makes it his or her duty to have con­sul­ta­tion with con­stituents on a given day or days of the week at an of­fice re­served for that pur­pose?

Now, there are town hall/com­mu­nity meet­ings, cor­ner rea­son­ings, walks, com­mu­ni­ca­tion via link-ups, mes­sages of care for the or­di­nary folk and thou­sands of peo­ple even get to earn bread by re­mov­ing shrub­bery and clean­ing up pub­lic ar­eas not main­tained for years.

And de­spite the rel­a­tive close­ness to Christ­mas when parish coun­cils usu­ally of­fer short-term employment, it is not un­rea­son­able for any­one to be­lieve that the wide­spread bush clear­ing now be­ing un­der­taken is not be­ing done to in­flu­ence the out­come of Monday’s elec­tion. The op­por­tu­nity has again pre­sented it­self for con­stituents to come face to face with and to se­ri­ously in­ter­ro­gate those rep­re­sen­ta­tives whose func­tions and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, for all in­tents and pur­poses, had hith­erto ap­peared to be far re­moved from the re­al­i­ties of in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties.

NO SPECIFICS ON MANFIESTOS

There is no gain­say­ing that in 21st cen­tury Ja­maica, vot­ers are more dis­cern­ing, if partly be­cause they are more in­formed. Whether ei­ther party has mounted a real battle to win the hearts and minds of vot­ers is not al­to­gether ev­i­dent, given the gen­er­alised mes­sages to vote one way or an­other, but which are largely with­out specifics as to the con­tenders’ post-elec­tion man­i­festos for the 228 di­vi­sions across the is­land.

At the mo­ment, parish coun­cils are use­less in at­tend­ing to some com­mu­ni­ties’ is­sues and this elec­tion can be used as an ul­ti­ma­tum on their tar­di­ness. For ex­am­ple, de­spite sev­eral re­ports over sev­eral months to the Su­per­in­ten­dent of Works’ Of­fice at the Claren­don Parish Coun­cil about the bad state of the road lead­ing to the Gar­logie Pri­mary and Ju­nior High School in Claren­don, and ap­peals for ac­tion on its part, the road re­mains in dis­re­pair. This ex­am­ple of the poor state of our roads could be repli­cated to hun­dreds of other roads is­land­wide.

Note that the parish coun­cils’ re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, such as parochial roads.

Ap­par­ently, as part of the pub­lice­d­u­ca­tion drive in the lead-up to the up­com­ing polls, an of­fi­cial at the Min­istry of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment ad­vised, through the Ja­maica In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice, of the fol­low­ing:

“Un­der the Lo­cal Gov­er­nance Act and the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Fi­nanc­ing and Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment Act, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the con­stituents in the di­vi­sions that each coun­cil­lor is sup­posed to serve.” That means re­port­ing to them things that are to be done in an up­com­ing year and all their up­com­ing projects and plans, and re­ports are to be made to con­stituents once per year.

The in­ac­tion on the part of the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in that re­gard sim­ply sug­gests that they are in breach of the very laws they are sworn to up­hold. The par­ties have made a post-elec­tion pledge that there will be more ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency in gov­er­nance at the com­mu­nity level and, there­fore, the can­di­dates you be­lieve will hold to that pledge should de­ter­mine how you vote on Monday, Novem­ber 28.

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