Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | Municipal leaders need sense of shame

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Desmond McKenzie, the local government minister, says he has high expectations of the municipal councils that were elected a week ago and whose members are to take their oaths on Thursday. And as a former municipal councillor himself, including the chairmanship of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), he declared himself knowledgeable of what is required of them.

Perhaps, therefore, Mr McKenzie expects his expertise to have some bearing on "sensitisation exercises" that his ministry is to hold with the councils, including their administrative staff. We don't suppose this is anything physical, although we remember the frenetic dizziness with which Mr McKenzie, as mayor of Kingston, darted around the city getting little of substance done.

We can't say that we are sanguine that the councils, even with the benefit of Mr McKenzie's sensitisation exercise, will do much of anything, but for their members to act as proxies for national parliamentarians in delivering petty patronage. We, therefore, wouldn't have missed the councils if they had been abandoned, in keeping with our suggestions to successive administrations.

But given that they exist and are likely to remain for some time, we have an idea for Minister McKenzie to incorporate into his sensitisation exercises: that each council member, and primarily their chairmen, develop at least a sense of shame. This is especially important in the KSAC, where the council has long presided over a capital city of grit and grime without appearing to notice. And neither should the mayors be allowed to put billboards of themselves at the entrance of parish capitals, as was the case with Mr McKenzie, his successor, Angela Brown Burke, and their predecessor, the late Marie Atkins.

One of Mrs Brown Burke's still exists on the Palisadoes road from the Norman Manley International Airport on the way to Kingston, in which the mayor welcomes new arrivals to her city. That drive, after the Sir Florizel Glasspole Highway, takes you along either the Michael Manley Boulevard or Windward Road, with their potholes, overgrown verges, garbage-filled drains, untethered goats, assertive mangy mongrels and a general sense of disorder. Such scenes are replicated across many other places in the capital and across Jamaica.

But neither does the leadership of the local governments appear to notice the state of the physical environment, much more to be ashamed by what they see. When it is brought to their attention, they mostly claim it is not their responsibility to clean or fix, or that it is too difficult, or too expensive, to accomplish.

We don't buy it! That is a response born in intellectual laziness and entrapped in a politics that promotes the principle of least resistance. Doing otherwise is either too hard, or too risky.

The municipal leader with the vision and energy, and who appreciates that having clean drains and garbage-free verges may help to instill a sense of order, can find creative ways to mobilise the communities to get it done. It need not happen everywhere at once. The intensity of action can be phased and zoned.

Small things can be the foundation of big ideas.