Lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions and af­ter

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS&EDUCATION - Martin Henry Martin Henry is an ad­min­is­tra­tor at UTech. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and med­henry@gmail.com.

TO­MOR­ROW, THE Ja­maica Labour Party takes charge of the ma­jor­ity of the parish coun­cils, now re­bap­tised as mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions.

This will be ac­com­plished with only a third or so of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers turn­ing out and through the hard core of the party’s sup­port­ers turn­ing out in some­what higher num­bers than those of the PNP. Plus, a lit­tle push from con­sci­en­tious swing vot­ers who take this civic re­spon­si­bil­ity very se­ri­ously and who will con­tinue in a slight ma­jor­ity to sup­port the party form­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Bear­ing in mind what ev­ery­body knows that lo­cal gov­ern­ment is the wa­ter boy of cen­tral gov­ern­ment and that coun­cil­lors are the gofers and ‘hand­outers’ of the MPs when they are on the same side, it is al­ready a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge for the op­po­si­tion party to gain or re­tain con­trol of the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions. The PNP hasn’t helped its cause by mak­ing the same mis­take twice and will suf­fer greater loss to­mor­row than would nat­u­rally have taken place from the pol­i­tics of clien­telism and the strug­gle over scarce ben­e­fits.

There is very lit­tle doubt that the JLP’s of­fer of the $1.5mil­lion tax re­lief, which stood to ben­e­fit the work­ing poor more, and the PNP’s vir­u­lent and sus­tained at­tack upon it hurt PNP chances in the Fe­bru­ary gen­eral elec­tion and helped the Labour Party to sneak home from the back of the race.

‘RUN-WID-IT’ POL­I­TICS

The PNP’s at­tack on the $600-mil­lion bush-clear­ing and drain-clean­ing pro­gramme that was con­ve­niently launched by the Gov­ern­ment just be­fore the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions is bound to have sim­i­lar re­sults. The party has vast ex­pe­ri­ence with ‘run-wid-it’ pol­i­tics, and, in­deed, in­vented the phrase through a min­is­ter of fi­nance speak­ing ‘off cam­era’ at a cam­paign meet­ing. Ev­ery­where in the world of demo­cratic pol­i­tics, par­ties in gov­ern­ment spend on quite le­git­i­mate ac­tiv­i­ties to try to in­flu­ence vot­ing out­comes. Some­times they win; some­times they lose.

The al­leged ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and skewed dis­tri­bu­tion of the bush­clear­ing fund is, nat­u­rally, a cause for con­cern. But the frontal at­tack upon it by the usu­ally po­lit­i­cally as­tute PNP is bound to be read where votes count most as ‘box­ing food outa poor peo­ple mouth’, and by the very ones who love the poor most.

Por­tia Simp­son Miller’s ‘threat’ to re­bel­lious Com­rades out in South East (SE) St Ann and the very solemn me­dia analy­ses of it will not be af­fect­ing re­sults to­mor­row. Our il­lus­tri­ous poll­ster Don Anderson (if one can now still trust poll­sters!) con­firmed my Flanked by fel­low PNP de­baters Scean Barn­swell (left) and Eu­gene Kelly, Ve­ne­sha Phillips makes a point dur­ing the lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­bate on Novem­ber 23.

sus­pi­cion in re­marks he made at a CARIMAC fo­rum that, based on hard em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence, scan­dals don’t af­fect how peo­ple vote.

FREAK VIC­TORY

The rebel PNP ‘in­de­pen­dent’ coun­cil­lor-can­di­dates are go­ing to get wiped out (metaphor­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally) in SE St Ann to­mor­row. Not only be­cause the

in­de­pen­dent can­di­date is dead, never mind ex-JLP Paul Pat­more’s freak vic­tory in Trelawny last time, but SE St Ann is the strong­est, longest-ex­is­tent, non-gar­ri­son PNP safe seat in the coun­try, hav­ing never been lost since its cre­ation in 1959.

The over­rated de­bates will not have af­fected out­comes to­mor­row in any sig­nif­i­cant way. They pro­vided po­lit­i­cal en­ter­tain­ment late at night and ex­posed both the silli­ness of po­lit­i­cal con­tenders and their par­ties and the sorry state of lo­cal gov­ern­ment. They pa­raded as­pi­rants who were very much like the rest of the pop­u­la­tion and nei­ther or­a­tor­i­cal ge­niuses and ma­gi­cians nor bum­bling fools. The de­bates were long on prom­ises. If 90 per cent of those prom­ises could be done, why have they not been done? And what will make them doable, come Tues­day morn­ing?

I voted for Ken­isha Allen as the bright­est spark in the first de­bate and over­all in both de­bates. Her lickle mos­quito ‘jook’ against her op­po­nents, par for the course in both pol­i­tics and de­bate, was blown up to ele­phan­tine pro­por­tions in a week of na­tional chat, lift­ing the speaker with ev­ery puff. Ken­isha seems to have what it takes to rise in na­tional pol­i­tics.

We have now gone from hum­ble parish coun­cils to ex­alted mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions. But what, apart from name, has changed, or will change? The coun­cils (or cor­po­ra­tions) are re­spon­si­ble for very lit­tle, have very lit­tle power, and even less money and in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity.

Take mar­kets. Richard Creary, for­mer mayor of Port Maria, was in the se­cond de­bate boast­ing about the new mar­ket for the town now to be built af­ter years of ne­glect. To be built by the Min­istry of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment! The St Mary Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion does not have a dime for one new mar­ket stall!

When it comes to lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the coun­try is di­vided be­tween the kill-it and the build-it camps. I am with the build-it camp for very clear rea­sons. Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment is about a lot more than the eco­nom­ics of pro­vid­ing ser­vices to the pop­u­la­tion.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ment is crit­i­cal to demo­cratic gov­er­nance and the con­trol of the con­cen­tra­tion of power in a cen­tral author­ity. It should not be un­der the thumb of the cen­tral author­ity to be done with as the cen­tral author­ity capri­ciously de­vises. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­form process has been al­lowed to drag on for­ever with talk, talk and more talk. It would have been nice to hear the de­baters from both hos­tile tribes propos­ing an agenda for ad­vanc­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment and free­ing them­selves from the crip­pling dom­i­nance of cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

The state of the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions is not on ac­count of the coun­cil­lors be­ing in­ca­pable dunces as we are some­times led to be­lieve. Where there are such, it is the other way round. The sys­tem, as it now is, at­tracts that kind.

What the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions lack – and need to have – are au­ton­omy, re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­sources. A mix of re­al­is­tic ser­vice fees, re­ten­tion of some of the pub­lic rev­enue from lo­cal eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, and the eq­ui­table op­er­a­tion of the Equal­i­sa­tion Fund (which we heard in the de­bates was be­ing abused) would ad­dress the re­source needs of the cor­po­ra­tions and, there­fore, their ca­pac­ity to per­form. But all of this would trans­fer por­tions of power from cen­tral gov­ern­ment to lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

SCI­EN­TIFIC EV­I­DENCE

The min­is­ter of sci­ence, en­ergy and tech­nol­ogy and a for­mer mayor in lo­cal gov­ern­ment, Dr An­drew Wheat­ley, says the Gov­ern­ment in­tends to drive pol­icy with sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. Cen­tral gov­ern­ment should do a com­par­a­tive study of lo­cal gov­ern­ment and lo­cal gov­ern­ment, should do its own. But while we wait, the na­tional univer­sity has done a range of work rel­e­vant to lo­cal gov­ern­ment per­for­mance.

Among other things, UTech, Ja­maica, has stud­ied cit­i­zens’ at­ti­tude to­wards land tax­a­tion, has de­vel­oped so­lar-pow­ered LED street light­ing, en­gi­neered an off-grid, so­lar-pow­ered pump­ing sys­tem for mi­nor wa­ter sup­plies, which was first in­stalled in Car­ron Hall, St Mary, as Richard Creary boasted in the de­bate and which has been also ap­plied in Claren­don, as mayor of May Pen, Scean Barn­swell, told us. The univer­sity has un­der­utilised pol­icy guid­ance ca­pac­ity in ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning, land man­age­ment and en­vi­ron­ment, build­ing, road main­te­nance, en­ergy and care of the el­derly – the sorts of things that lo­cal gov­ern­ment is about and from which cen­tral gov­ern­ment could richly ben­e­fit.

Did it strike no one else as strange that their me­dia in­ter­roga­tors were ask­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­baters, and these parish reps hap­pily obliged to pro­vide an­swers, about a range of na­tional de­vel­op­ment is­sues which are the purview of cen­tral gov­ern­ment? Per­haps a se­ries of de­bates should have been held in the parish cap­i­tals! Or, are na­tional de­bates just a bad fit for lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions?

I“I say to the com­mer­cial banks: Look out be­cause I am push­ing for com­pe­ti­tion,” Shaw told yes­ter­day’s ninth an­nual pen­sions sem­i­nar staged by Prime As­set Man­age­ment Ltd in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Pri­vate Sec­tor Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Ja­maica (PSOJ) at The Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus ho­tel, New Kingston.

JER­MAINE BARNABY/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

TWO CAMPS

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