Editorial | Dissolve parish councils
If kinetic meant substance, Desmond McKenzie might have been a great mayor of Kingston. At a blurry, vertigo-inducing frenzy, he, for nine years, went about little.
Not that his recent predecessors or successors at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), or any of the other parish councils, were any better. They probably achieved less. And, at least, in Mr McKenzie, there was evidence that he wasn't comatose, apart from the periodic stirrings of parish councils to ward off allegations of nepotism and corruption.
Desmond McKenzie, though, now has a real chance at redemption and, at the same time, an opportunity to rescue local government. The easiest way to do so, and the one this newspaper suggests, is to dump the parish councils. That, unfortunately, is not a recommendation the Holness administration will readily accept on a broad scale, unless it is politically opportune.
A real case
Mr McKenzie, who is now the minister for local government, has, in this respect, a real case to make. He should attempt something different, practical, with better prospects for achieving effective results, while the Government has a proper conversation on real local government reform. And Mr McKenzie has a fortuitous platform from which to launch the effort.
Last week, in the face of the second report in a year by the contractor general into nepotism and cronyism at the Hanover Parish Council, Mr McKenzie ordered a financial audit of its affairs, warning officials that any defiance on their part would "be treated as an act of treason", an offence for which Mr McKenzie perhaps knows the penalty can be death.
Inefficient and ineffective
Hyperbole notwithstanding, we get Mr McKenzie's point. Not only was the parish council being treated, it seems, like an ABM to dispense taxpayers' money to family, friends and political colleagues, the Hanover Parish Council is wholly inefficient and ineffective, as evidenced by the grit and grime of its towns and the mess that is its management of applications for development permits.
Mr McKenzie can hardly be proud of the state of the capital city over which he presided for so long and whose garbage-strewn, slummy communities and disorderly public spaces his successor has done little to improve.
The best example of the atrophying and decaying effect of incompetent city management is perhaps the northshore town of Falmouth, the capital of the parish of Trelawny, which is run by an elected parish council. Five years ago, a new, multimillion-dollar cruise ship pier and associated dockside shops, a partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the Port Authority, were opened in the town. Since then, most other things in Falmouth have gone downhill. The parish's incompetent local government has been unable to keep the place clean, maintain public order or offer the basic services expected of it. It is hardly a place where tourists would want to be.
As we expect Mr McKenzie will do with the Hanover Parish Council, the local government authorities should be dissolved in the medium term and city/regional managers appointed to run the corporations or clusters thereof, while the country works out the best way to devolve government. The J$2 billion a year from central government to the parish councils can be more competently spent than is being managed by the 226 politicians who sit on the councils and apparently see themselves as guides to troughs.