McPherse Thompson | Governance and accountability at the community level
In the few days before Jamaicans go to the polls to elect local government representatives, voters should use the opportunity presented on the campaign trail by contenders on both sides of the political spectrum to determine what are their strategies for individual communities, whether they are successful or not.
This is the time when one might hear constituents uttering the common refrain about incumbents and caretakers, as they were up to nomination day when they formally became contestants: "the only time you see them is election (campaign) time".
Of course, that might not necessarily be the case for those political representatives, including members of parliament, who make a concerted effort to be in their constituencies or at their constituency offices at least once a week.
Notwithstanding that, how many persons have even heard of a councillor who makes it his or her duty to have consultation with constituents on a given day or days of the week at an office reserved for that purpose?
Now, there are town hall/community meetings, corner reasonings, walks, communication via link-ups, messages of care for the ordinary folk and thousands of people even get to earn bread by removing shrubbery and cleaning up public areas not maintained for years.
And despite the relative closeness to Christmas when parish councils usually offer short-term employment, it is not unreasonable for anyone to believe that the widespread bush clearing now being undertaken is not being done to influence the outcome of Monday's election.
The opportunity has again presented itself for constituents to come face to face with and to seriously interrogate those representatives whose functions and responsibilities, for all intents and purposes, had hitherto appeared to be far removed from the realities of individual communities.
NO SPECIFICS ON MANFESTOS
There is no gainsaying that in 21st-century Jamaica, voters are more discerning, if partly because they are more informed. Whether either party has mounted a real battle to win the hearts and minds of voters is not altogether evident, given the generalised messages to vote one way or another, but which are largely without specifics as to the contenders' post-election manifestos for the 228 divisions across the island.
At the moment, parish councils are useless in attending to some communities' issues and this election can be used as an ultimatum on their tardiness. For example, despite several reports over several months to the Superintendent of Works' Office at the Clarendon Parish Council about the bad state of the road leading to the Garlogie Primary and Junior High School in Clarendon, and appeals for action on its part, the road remains in disrepair. This example of the poor state of our roads could be replicated to hundreds of other roads islandwide.
Note that the parish councils' responsibilities include managing and maintaining infrastructure and public facilities, such as parochial roads.
Apparently, as part of the public-education drive in the lead-up to the upcoming polls, an official at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development advised, through the Jamaica Information Service, of the following:
"Under the Local Governance Act and the Local Government Financing and Financial Management Act, the local authorities have responsibilities to the constituents in the divisions that each councillor is supposed to serve." That means reporting to them things that are to be done in an upcoming year and all their upcoming projects and plans, and reports are to be made to constituents once per year.
The inaction on the part of the local authorities in that regard simply suggests that they are in breach of the very laws they are sworn to uphold. The parties have made a post-election pledge that there will be more accountability and transparency in governance at the community level and, therefore, the candidates you believe will hold to that pledge should determine how you vote on Monday, November 28.
- McPherse Thompson is assistant business editor at The Gleaner and holds a PhD in Political Science. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and mcpherse.thompson