Glenn Tucker | Local government crying out for vision
The local government elections are behind us and the word from the Electoral Office of Jamaica is that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has won the majority of parish councils, or municipal corporations, as they are now styled. I disagree. I think the People's National Party (PNP) has lost the majority of parish councils.
The voter turnout was a disappointing 30 per cent, and those candidates who were questioned about this said they had to "look into it". That is political jargon for 'I never thought of it'. Before we bother the brightest intellectuals in academia to investigate, maybe we could start with a simple, common-sense investigation of our own.
We do not have the benefit of civics in schools to help us. We know, however, that what political parties and elections have come to mean to the masses is free liquor, free food, free favours, free funds and festivities. Whenever these are absent from the equation, people begin to suspect the system is failing them. The PNP admitted they were broke. So 'no money, no love' for them. There are others who are not a part of this group. I will look at the situation in my division.
I sometimes listen with interest when some persons express surprise to learn that some of the country's most distinguished citizens live among us. Part of their surprise stems from the fact that they never seem to see these persons. I think I have an idea why.
Although our town is the most prominent in the constituency, the sidewalks are either absent or dangerously deceptive, forcing pedestrians to compete with vehicular traffic. The traffic situation is chaotic. The market is little more than an ancient shack - inaccessible to the elderly and arthritic - with two stalls both selling yams, peppers and a few other items. So these citizens avoid this town and spend their time and money elsewhere.
Sections of the road on which I live are extremely dark at night. So anyone in need of a smartphone or some cash just stands in the tall bushes by the roadside and waits. Most of the horror stories are not widely known because the young female victims do not want details of their ordeal to be made public. This is possible because the street lights have not worked for years. After the most recent attack, I decided to engage the Jamaica Public Service Company Ltd myself, and their initial response was swift. It's now on their list for repairs. And no 'funds' were required. The other problems I mentioned have also existed for years.
During the recent campaigns, I watched the advertisements on TV. They were mostly the same boring, platitudinised generalities we have been hearing for years. Perhaps, they would be more effective if these candidates named even one project they would undertake in the first year. At least, their constituents would have something to talk about. Most of the irritants in my community would not require a six-figure budget to correct.
The residents on my street pay their land taxes - on time. It seems unfair, therefore, that for the past several years, my neighbour, Gerry, and I have had to maintain about 300 feet of roadway. And that section our gardeners do not reach can conceal LeBron James - in full flight. Bush! Perhaps, that is why when I asked one resident if he was ready to vote, he responded as if he was subjected to extreme provocation by me.
There seem to be indications from independent sources that this new administration seems to be moving in a positive direction. Messrs Holness and McKenzie have stated that there will be 'no honeymoon'. It should not be necessary to warn them that this would not be the first time that leadership is thoroughly embarrassed by members entrusted with certain responsibilities without close supervision. It would be myopic of them to see the results as a 'great' victory. For a party without funds in a contest with 30 per cent response, the PNP did very well.
I do not think that nearly 300 representatives should be required to represent less than three million people. But if that is what we have, let's make the most of it. In the past, I have found many of these councillors - from both sides - to be lazy, visionless party hacks who see their victory as an award and not as a call to serve. Systems must be implemented to monitor them closely and constituents must be frequently consulted on their performance.
Maybe the biggest hurdle is to wean citizens off this perennial breastfeeding politicians have encouraged. There is something particularly egregious about beseeching, bribing and bussing people to get them to take an interest in their own affairs. Eventually, this practice robs the society of its very soul. It spawns mendicancy and inefficiency.
What can be done to get citizens to care about issues? Their issues!! When are these elections going to revolve around policy accountability? How can we get people to realise that the only place we will all be equal is in that voting booth, and if they vote, they can influence important events?
I can think of no better way to measure the health of our democracy than to have the overwhelming majority of eligible citizens feeling a responsibility to vote without payment or private promises. A true measure of a healthy democracy in Jamaica is when the turnout for local government elections exceeds that of general elections.
I have voted in every election for which I am eligible because I belong to that dying breed who see voting as a civic sacrament. But this time, I did so with a heavy heart.