Editorial | Reform can’t wait
All politics is local. This phrase associated with a former speaker of the United States House of Representative is interpreted as sage advice from a seasoned campaigner about how to connect with voters at the local level to achieve longevity in politics.
If we take this aphorism to refer to the relationship of local voters and their parish and municipal corporation, local government reform is urgently needed here. We have listened keenly to the announcements of the current minister, Desmond McKenzie, and we applaud his direction.
The establishment of a Land Divestment Committee to ensure that the sale or lease of municipal lands is transparent and conducted within the ambit of the law is a good thing. The establishment of audit committees in local councils, the proposed procurement rules, and quarterly reporting requirements are also to be commended.
There has been minimal interest in past local government elections, judging from the numbers who show up to the polls to vote. In March 2012, a mere 34 per cent of the electorate voted. And in 2007, the figure was slightly better at 42 per cent.
It remains to be seen whether there will be an improvement this time around. Some commentators contend that Jamaicans, having just come out of the general election in February are battle-worn and may not bother to go out to vote.
There are others who strongly believe that their vote will not make a difference because the problems of neglect, water woes and dilapidated roads will remain despite the results. It is not difficult to see why some voters have become turned off. Too often the information coming out of these councils demonstrates how ill-prepared some of the councillors are for governance. They tend to focus on small, inconsequential items, instead of tackling the big problems that create so much frustration for residents. When will we get to the point where each council has a strategic plan to present to its citizens?
We urge voters to take time to assess the quality of democracy in their communities. Think performance and ability before thinking party.
Some of the relevant questions must include whether councils are functioning effectively and efficiently. Are there conflict-of-interest matters affecting the operation of the councils? Is there weak management? Is there corruption occurring at the local council? How clean is the community? Are drains cleared regularly?
For those who feel impotent to do anything about some of these challenges. Do not forget the mechanisms to get questions answered and action taken. State actors such as the contractor general, political ombudsman and the public defender, although seated in the capital, Kingston, are available to all Jamaica and are there to right some of the wrongs that beset society.
Most committee meetings are open to the public, and residents should make it their duty to attend these meetings so that councillors understand that the community has an interest in the business they are conducting and which has to be done in a transparent manner.
What we are suggesting, therefore, is that the answer lies not in shunning the elections. One should vote and then hold the elected officials accountable and see that they fulfil their responsibilities.
Good governance underpins a number of activities, including strategic planning, maintenance and repairs to infrastructure such as roads and bridges, beautification, solid waste management and security. If this begins at the community level, it will ensure order throughout the island.