Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial | Portmore issue a misjudgement of value

Published:Friday | November 11, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Good sense, at least for the time being, has prevailed. The parliamentary bill by which the Government hopes to end the practice of members of the Portmore Municipal Council automatically sitting in the St Catherine Parish Council is being sent for review by a House committee, defusing a potentially nasty quarrel between the government and the Opposition.

In the ensuing calm, there is an opportunity for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reflect, especially on statements made in his inauguration speech in March on what they meant and whether they represented core beliefs. Perhaps just as important, he should consider whether recent events represented good, strategic, political calculation.

Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party has a one-seat advantage in the House of Representatives. "There is no majority for arrogance," the prime minister declared in that inaugural address.

The circumstances, he suggested, required partnership and partnership required trust, which couldn't be bought only with pledges and statements. Trust would have to be collateralised by action.

Mr Holness' Government has set November 28 as the date for local government elections. Candidates for that poll are to be nominated today.

The composition of St Catherine is different from the other authorities in a significant respect. Of its 41 members, 12 represent divisions in the parish municipality of Portmore, whose separate council they, along with a directly elected mayor, comprise.

Its majority in Portmore was crucial to the opposition People's National Party's (PNP) control of the St Catherine local Government. Relieving the PNP of that advantage was a large part of the thinking of the Government's Nicodemus-style tabling of legislation on Monday to delink the Portmore and St Catherine councils, which it hoped would happen in time for the local government poll.

For nearly 40 years, major electoral-related issues, including constituency and divisional boundaries, have been the subject of consensus decision-making at the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), comprised of independents and representatives of the two big parties. ECJ agreements, including the passing of legislation, by convention, are implemented change. It is an arrangement that helped to pull Jamaica back from the brink of anarchy and created a credible electoral system.

 

Consultations with people

 

We are surprised, therefore, that the Portmore bill was not subject to this process, as it was being attempted in such a quick-fire manner to cause the ECJ's chairman, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, to publicly warn the Government that it couldn't "practically be completed and gazetted" before today's nomination. She insisted on consultations with the people of Portmore.

The danger of the Government's ploy is that it casts Prime Minister Holness as engaging in politics as usual and undermines his recent attempts to carefully build his image as a leader concerned with larger, inclusive matters. Further, it raises the question of judgement, suggesting a willingness to go after a petty prize, while risking the opportunity of achieving the real bonanza.

The Government has maintained Jamaica on a credible fiscal track for the past four years, which is beginning to deliver economic growth and which Mr Holness is keen to expand. But he also has more difficult reforms to complete, including in public-sector pensions and the structure of public bureaucracy. We would expect him to be wary of having an overly hostile Opposition to deal with, especially for something of such relatively small value.