Editorial | Taking hold of local government
Among the more surprising statements during the televised debates for the November municipal elections was the answer from Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate Milton Brown to a question about the party's manifesto for the polls.
The party, Mr Brown acknowledged, didn't have one. JLP councillors, if they won majorities in any of the municipal councils, would thereafter develop and outline their plans and programmes.
Mr Brown, it ought to be noted, is inexperienced in neither politics nor local government. Or shouldn't be. He previously served as chairman of the Clarendon Parish Council and, therefore, mayor of May Pen, the parish's chief town. It is not unreasonable to infer from Mr Brown's answer his approach to managing Clarendon's local government when he was boss and what might be expected with his party in charge of the municipal corporation. That is to say, policy and management on the fly.
Mr Brown's ex post facto promise of a manifesto notwithstanding, we are not sanguine that anything has changed. A fortnight ago, when the municipal councillors were sworn in and their chairmen elected, none of the leaders offered anything near a vision of, or a work programme for, the development of the parishes.
The closest anyone came to something of an idea for his parish or city was Delroy Williams' rather airy oration about making Kingston into a "mega city" and the "capital of the Caribbean, the pearl of the Antilles and a major player on the Latin America landscape". Whatever that really means so far eludes us, though most of the 660,000 residents of Kingston and St Andrew would be satisfied and willing to declare Mr Williams a hero if he afforded them relatively clean and orderly communities, where garbage is collected, drains are cleaned, verges trimmed and they are not kept awake at night by loud music.
The requirement for clarity, however, is not limited to Mayor Williams. Indeed, it should be incumbent on the leaders of all the parish governments, as well as the Portmore municipality, to quickly, preferably at their next scheduled monthly meeting, outline their development plans for their regions over the three-year life cycle of the corporations.
These should include plans for infrastructure and how they propose to use their regulatory and other authority, including partnerships with private interests, to encourage investment, job creation and economic growth in their towns and cities.
Further, as provided for in the Local Governance Act, the councils and the local government ministry should move quickly to establish the proposed parish and community development committees, whose jobs should not be limited only to advising on planned development for their regions, but to report on their implementation.
In this regard, these committees should be structured to operate as oversight bodies, something similar to how the Economic Programme Oversight Committee functions in holding the national government to account under the economic reform programme with the International Monetary Fund.
Indeed, the revised law provides greater scope for the municipal authorities to take charge of, and decently manage, their parishes and cities. The matter is whether they have the talent and the will to take hold of the opportunity and to do so with transparency.