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Editorial: Have national, local vote together

Published:Thursday | March 19, 2015 | 3:00 AM

One of the more notable allocations in the Government's new appropriations is the J$2.25-billion increase in the budget for the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). That is 258 per cent more than they got for the fiscal year now ending, although the $3.1 billion they will have to spend is still a quarter less than what the commission said it needed.

The ECJ has two big spends this fiscal year.

One is a voter reverification programme, which is when its staff goes from house to house to ensure that the people on the voters' registers still live at the addresses and in the constituencies for which they were enumerated, and they have not died or emigrated. It's a little bit like a census, though not as involved.

It is part of the process to ensure the integrity of the voters' list and, ultimately, the country's democracy. Such an exercise was last conducted more than a decade ago, so this one is considered to be overdue. Hopefully, it can be accomplished within its budget, which is J$1.4 billion, compared to the J$2 billion that the ECJ's chairman, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, and her fellow commissioners last month said it would cost. In other words, what they have been allocated for this job is $600,000, or 30 per cent, less than they told Jamaicans they require.

Part of the problem facing the ECJ, as one commissioner, Earl Jarrett, acknowledged, is the country's 'difficult economic times'. The Government, with oversight from the International Monetary Fund, is attempting to bring its fiscal house in order as it confronts Jamaica's crisis of debt. This means spending less and moving aggressively to balance the Budget.

The ECJ's other big project, which affects what can be spent on the first, is the local government elections which are supposed to be held every three years, and which, unless postponed, can be called now. The budgeted amount for this vote is J$1.2 billion.

 

a miserable performance

 

Few would deny that Jamaica's local government system has, for at least the last two generations, performed miserably. It represents among the seamier side of the country's politics, an area where only small rinds of pork can swell, corruption grows spoils-fed partisanship fat. Moreover, those who operate at this end of the structure of government and governance are among the most administratively incompetent and inept.

That notwithstanding, there are many Jamaicans who, philosophically, are invested in the local government system, or perhaps its possibilities. For, in it, there is, indeed, potential for communities to be closer to representation and the airing and address of local issues that would not command attention at the national level.

On that basis, we are willing to concede to continuance of the parish/municipal councils and vote for their representatives. But, given the economics of elections, we support the proposal that these local and national polls be synchronised. The life of local government is, by law, three years, while constitutionally, that of the national parliament is five. But it is a long time since a local government election is held within the time frame. They are regularly delayed by ministerial edict and rubber-stamped by the government majority in Parliament. Formalising the arrangement, therefore, may not be such a big thing.

It would certainly be cheaper and, possibly, more efficient.