Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | How Mr Williams can make Kingston great

Published:Sunday | December 18, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Much of what Delroy Williams said sounded like cliched pap, the kind of untethered, shiny-object oration you expect from the chairman of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), every time a new head of the capital's local government is sworn in. But we are taking a chance on Mr Williams.

One, he can do no worse than his recent predecessors. Second, we don't take literally his statement about turning Kingston into a mega-city. Nor do we interpret the spectacle into which he wishes to transform the Corporate Area as merely gaudy tinsel, bereft of substance and depth.

We give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his speech writers were merely loose and inelegant. Moreover, we detect the germ of an idea for Kingston in his statement, which could evolve into something worthwhile with the benefit of thought. Or, put another way, Mr Williams could well be on to something.

First, we take at face value the mayor's plan to rekindle pride in Kingston and instil in its inhabitants a sense of its majesty. He said: "Our vision is clear and certain: to make Kingston the capital of the Caribbean, the pear of the Antilles and a major player on the Latin American landscape."

But more significant is his pledge to use the available laws to facilitate growth in the municipality, including the revitalisation of the capital's physically blighted and disordered downtown area.

 

Declarations for action

 

Mr Williams, however, must avoid the pitfall of those who have recently preceded him conflating declarations for action and actual accomplishments. Or, put differently, it is quite noticeable that neither his party nor their opponents entered the recent local government election with either overarching manifestos or individualised programmes for specific municipal councils. Indeed, their ephemeral generalities didn't excite the electorate, but for the bases of the parties. Only 30 per cent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots.

In this regard, Mr Williams has three important tasks to be worked on simultaneously.

He must embrace the idea of doing the little things and getting them right, like pruning the ficuses planted on the sidewalks of the downtown Kingston's main streets, and having the city cleaned of the squalor with which it is overwhelmed. It won't be enough to argue that this remit is the responsibility of some central government agency and outside the purview of the KSAC. Mr Williams, therefore, has to become an activist mayor, who the citizens of the KSAC perceive to be pursuing their interests and are therefore willing to back in an aggressive campaign for change and transformation.

At another level, he must be the face of the city not only on grandiose billboards, but in making coherent intellectual arguments - as opposed to grandiose declarations of hope, unsupported by fact or data - of its importance as a city and why it should be a first choice for investors, compared to others in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The mayor's third important undertaking is related to the other two. He must urgently sit with advisers to fashion concrete and actionable projects, the ephemeral notions of his inaugural remarks.

If he gets these things going, the KSAC, as the local government minister, Desmond McKenzie, suggests, may indeed have an opportunity to "signal ... that local government deserves respect".