Fri | May 26, 2017

My MP should be my neighbour

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 6:00 AMPatria-Kaye Aarons, Contributor
Paul Patmore, independent councillor for the Lorimers division in Trelawny.

I take issue with the Russian roulette played with local government elections and the candidates put forward by each party for nomination.

Whenever (if ever) local government elections are finally called, I really think the candidates should be fielded from the communities they hope to represent.

Paul Patmore is a perfect example of the way it should be.

One of only two independent members of parliament (MP) in the country, Paul refused to accept the rhetoric fed to him by past political representatives that the provision of water for him and his neighbours was a $4-million exercise. He also was not comfortable relying on the costly and overstretched parish council water delivery truck.

Having himself had to live through the absence of the commodity, he was motivated to fix the problem. With less than $100,000, local bamboo, his neighbours' helping hands and sheer will, Paul piped water from a nearby spring into the community. He took it one step further the next year and rallied the community, raised $450,000, and with that money purchased the community's very own water truck.

 

WHO FEELS IT KNOWS IT

Who feels it knows it. As long as you don't live in the conditions your constituents live in, you don't know. Unless you are living without potable water like them, you won't have any real impetus to provide it.

Unless you have to walk the dark lonely roads at night without street lights, you won't push hard to get them installed. Unless you drop in the potholes every day to and from work, you won't care to fill them until election time. Until the collective stench of piled-up garbage becomes a nuisance to you, you won't be compelled to put in collection measures with urgency.

When you actually live in the area for which you are responsible, being a councillor becomes more than just another job. You take it personally - because it is. It affects you directly.

Who better to represent you than the man who borrows your sugar and salt? The man whose children go to school with yours and who, on Sunday morning, you will sing hymns with at church? Who better than the man who will come to the local funerals not because it's a political tactic, but because he and the deceased grew up together and were real-life friends?

Bless his heart, but Ras Astor Black has run in nearly every open seat for the past 13 years. It makes a mockery of the political process. You shouldn't be able to play 'pin the tail on the donkey' for a seat. You should not put yourself forward as representative for wherever your tail lands.

If you live in Kingston, how do you stay efficiently connected to your rural constituency? How do you competently represent a community you visit twice a month? How can you relate when all of your constituents are living in squalor and you are not?

We stipulate for general elections that candidates must be Jamaican citizens. We go as far as to insist that they have residency in Jamaica and Jamaica alone - and for good reason.

Why should local government be any different?

You shouldn't be able to run away from the woes of your constituency. You must face the music every day. When you have to greet you neighbour every morning, you strive to face him with a clean conscience. It's hard to look at someone knowing full well you are not doing right by them.

However, out of sight, easily out of mind.

I do see how proximity may cause cronyism and corruption, but good governance must have checks and balances. That's why we have a contractor general with a whole office to support him. And we live in hope that decency prevails in those who put themselves forward for public office.

Besides, corruption can (and does) happen anywhere. It may be better to localise the candidate selections because neighbours know your business - and as soon as your financial position changes inexplicably, a nosey neighbour will find out the scoop quicker than the Office of the Contractor General.

Next local government elections, I say more of us should look in our neighbourhoods for the candidates. The seat of power for my community should not be in Kingston 6. It should be next door.

• Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.