Tue | Aug 22, 2017

The Gavel: Portmore scapegoat for Government fear

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2015 | 7:38 AMDaraine Luton

It is almost a done deal. The House of Representatives has voted to delay local government elections, and by this Friday the Senate will be asked to consider the two bills that will see the due date for the polls being pushed from June 30, 2014 to December 29, 2016. The reasons for the delay are as flippant as they have been in the past.  According to Local Government Minister Noel Arscott, there is a need to embark on further work having to do with local-government reform while completing the process of boundary adjustment in Portmore. Because of those two factors, the due date for the elections is being pushed back by 18 months, although Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller can name the date of election at any time. The need to embark on local-government reform was also the argument advanced by the Golding government when it postponed the elections twice in 2010. In addition,  Portmore again was used as an excuse for not calling the elections then. That was because the government of the day was adamant it was in the process of making Portmore Jamaica's 15th parish,  an election promise which has still not been delivered on. The people of Portmore must be feeling like a punching bag. They have been unfairly thrown into the midst of this political charade, purported as being in need of help when they are only being made the scapegoats. Senator K.D. Knight has a responsibility to do something about this unfair assault on the people of the Sunshine City. For while the die is cast with respect to local government elections, the government senator has long declared that the failure to have the Portmore mayoral election by this March would be a betrayal of trust. We hope he remains faithful to that view. Emerging from the review of boundaries in 2010 when two new constituencies were created, two divisions, though in Portmore, did not fall entirely in the boundaries of Portmore. As a result,  the councillors for the Portmore Pines and Greater Portmore North Division were unable to take seats in the Portmore Municipal Council. Parliament last July passed bills to address that anomaly and also to allow Leon Thomas to continue acting as mayor until local government elections are held.  The law requires an election to be held for the Portmore mayoralty if a vacancy occurs less than 15 months after the mayor was elected. Thomas became acting mayor after George Lee died in September 2013,  and were it not for an amendment to the law, he would have had to face the ballot. The old law states that he should not have acted for more than six months.  In supporting the Portmore bill last July, Knight said: "The extension of time coincides with the due date of the next parish council elections and I take it in good faith that at this time this administration is not contemplating an extension of the period for the local government representatives. "If it is that there is an extension of the period of the local government elections, there cannot be contemplated any extension of the acting period  for the deputy mayor. The administration has to be clear on that - has to be clear on that because that, to me, would be a breach of faith," Knight said. He went on to say that the people of the country are looking to see whether the Government was sincere when it moved the Portmore bills. "They are looking on and they are going to be able to make a determination at an appropriate time as to whether this was pure political expediency ... ."  One wonders if he will be singing from the same hymn sheet when the debate takes place in the Senate or if he will find it convenient to change his position and further deconstruct the fundamentals on which the Portmore municipality is built. Portmore boasts a system with Jamaica's first directly elected mayor. It is something that should be protected,  improved and replicated. Postponing the elections would do grave danger to that quest.   If Thomas,  who never faced the voters in such election, continues in the position until December 2016, it would be a most unforgivable case of the executive imposing a mayor on the people. At the very least,  the Portmore mayoral elections should be held forthwith.  If the Government wants to do more than pay lip service to local government,  it would give the people an opportunity to vote for their councillors immediately. Postponing these polls only reinforces the view that local government is not important and is a lesser breed of governance.  With regards to the realignment in Portmore, the Electoral Office of Jamaica has basically done its work and all that is left is for Phillip Paulwell, the minister with responsibility for elections, to affix his signature to a minesterial order. There is nothing that says the election cannot be held before these things are finalised.  Desmond McKenzie, the opposition spokesman on local government is correct. The Government is running from the people,  scared to go to the polls. The PNP controls all 14 local authorities, and an election at a time when Simpson Miller's popularity has taken a nosedive is not good for the party that has been heaping taxes on Jamaicans in a low-growth, austerity-laced economic reform programme. The Opposition may suddenly smell blood and use it as an impetus to get its house in order and challenge seriously in the general election also due December 29, 2016. Email feedback to thegavel@gleanerjm.com.