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McPherse Thompson | Absentee governorship at local level remains an issue

Published:Thursday | November 10, 2016 | 11:00 AM
McPherse Thompson

Assurances are again being made for improvements in street lighting, neighbourhood watch programmes, drainage systems and collection of garbage, assumedly after the upcoming local government elections.

But there are a host of other ills facing communities across Jamaica, like the highly disorderly arrangements for vending and public transportation in the market district and other areas of Kingston, as well as most townships across the island, a situation which provides easy pickings for criminals, but which has not been listed among the areas to be targeted for improvement.

In this as in other elections, voters will make summary judgments in either retaining, rejecting or accepting their incumbent local government or potential representatives, most likely in reaction to particular actions or omissions, for being absentee governors or not representing their interests at the parish council or local government ministry's levels.

A dilemm, set out in correspondence received last week is that people oftentimes have no idea how to reach their local representatives. Said the writer: "After elections there is not, (to the best of my knowledge), any published information as to how we may contact elected representatives. No phone number, no email address. It is almost as if they do not wish to be found ... except by the party faithful. Politicians are elected to serve, and they should do that."

The lack of visibility of councillors is not new and is a concern shared in diverse constituencies across the length and breadth of Jamaica, and has manifested itself in issues ranging from the lack of repairs to roadways for which they are responsible, to maintenance of gullies which in many cases are only attended to, if at all, after people's homes have been flooded and/or damaged.

That not many persons even know the names of their councillors as distinct from their members of parliament is an indictment on those political representatives, given that the very nature of local governance suggests that they are expected to be more familiar with the people and more aware of what is happening on the ground.

A clear manifestation of the absentee governorship was evident this week when groups of people, a few days after the announcement of the elections, converged at the May Pen Cemetery in West Kingston clearing overgrown shrubs and raking garbage that has been strewn about, apparently with the objective of bringing some semblance of orderliness to the perennially neglected area.

Was this meant to pull out all the stops to get support at the polls?

After all, maintenance of cemeteries is the responsibility of the parish council or municipality in which they are located.

According to the World Bank, in its democratic political aspect, decentralisation has two principal components: participation and accountability. Participation is chiefly concerned with increasing the role of citizens in choosing their local leaders and in telling those leaders what to do - in other words, providing inputs into local governance. Accountability, on the other hand, is the degree to which local governments have to explain or justify what they have done or failed to do.

Hence, everyone needs to familiarise themselves with the responsibilities of their local government representative going into the elections and vote for the person they believe will deliver.

Yes, political parties have a vested interest in the outcome, but so should individuals, not just the poor and vulnerable, but everyone whose lives revolve around the economic and social environment where they have shared attitudes and interests, and who will be affected by the decisions, indecisions or other judgment of those representatives.

People, especially the relatively young and impressionable, like to proclaim that they don't care and are not bothered about politics. That is a fallacy because, whether they so declare or not, a majority undoubtedly care about, certainly if not all, many of the issues undertaken in the context of the political direction and control exercised over the actions of citizens. If you are a social-democratic and don't want a conservative council or vice versa having the final say on political issues running the gamut of social and economic decisions in your parish and individual communities, you should vote for the candidate of your choice. For your community, your vote matters.

• McPherse Thompson is Assistant Business Editor at

The Gleaner and holds a PhD in Political Science. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com