Editorial | Can local government elections mean something?
Our hope of stifling a yawn for this local government elections by having the candidates discuss substantive issues is a wish, heading, it appears, for ignominious disappointment. At least, the campaign is starting that way.
On Thursday, while the local government minister, Desmond McKenzie, was announcing the November 28 date for Jamaicans to vote for members of the parish and municipal councils, his shadow, Noel Arscott, as at the People's National Party (PNP) headquarters, was framing their campaign as one targeting the "failed promises" of a national government that has been in office for eight months.
On Tuesday, in the House of Representatives, Mr Arscott was whingeing about the alleged failure by the administration to release funds to the parish councils, all 12 of which are now controlled by the PNP. The allegation was repeated by Mr Arscott and party colleagues.
"Is the Government playing politics with people's lives?" Mr Arscott asked in the House.
On Friday, Mr McKenzie's retort was that the parish council hoped for the release of money for various projects without appropriate documentation and accountability, which the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) wouldn't countenance.
"This JLP administration will uphold the processes and procedures of good governance, and we will deliver our promised prosperity for all without flouting the rules of governance as the PNP has," he said.
The die of fatuous allegations and counterclaims is, if not as yet irrevocably cast, in danger of quickly becoming so, unless voters insist otherwise. They should.
This newspaper has not, for a long time, been in support of the maintenance of the parish councils. They have, whichever party is in control of them, largely been incompetently managed and used as a conduit through which small-scale patronage is funnelled to the political hard core, the 30 per cent of the electorate who generally vote.
It is not only that the streets of our cities and towns are garbage-strewn, verges overgrown, drains dirty, and public spaces disorderly. Worse is the fact that in the majority of cases, councillors appear not to notice, and neither do they appear to have ideas for the transformation of their divisions, towns, cities or parishes. At least, they do not articulate any. Councillors perform not as representatives in their own right, but as factotums for national MPs.
MANAGERS HELD ACCOUNTABLE
That, in part, is the backdrop against which this newspaper is promoting eliminating parish councils and replacing them with professional city and regional managers, accountable to competent boards. When Parliament passed legislation to expand the authority of local authorities, including the right, in some circumstances, to borrow money, we thought that this might be a signal for changing the discourse about municipal government. Maybe those who offered themselves as candidates would have ideas about the structure of communities in which they wished to live and what might be done to attract investment and jobs to their cities and towns.
That hasn't happened. We despair it will, but we would be pleased to be proven wrong. Then people many begin to see some value in local government beyond as sources of corruption and the delivery of thin slivers of political pork.