Don't use local gov't bill politically - McKenzie
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
DESMOND MCKENZIE, the opposition spokesman on local government, has warned against the Government using a bill to allow for the inclusion of local government in the Constitution for political purposes.
In an interview with The Gleaner following the tabling of the bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, McKenzie said, with the local government elections due next March, he is "hoping that the bill will not be used in a political way".
"We hope that it does not stay in the Parliament for any protracted period of time ... . I hope that we will get enough time to debate it and look at the ramifications of what the bill is asking to be done and to ensure that it, if it is approved, is put in motion to work for the benefit of local government and not for the PNP or the JLP," McKenzie added.
The bill will have to sit on the table of the House for three months before the debate can begin, and another three months before it may be voted on.
Two companion pieces of legislation which will give effect to local government reform remain to be tabled, and Patrick Atkinson, the country's attorney general, said they are expected to be laid when the constitutional reform bill is being considered.
On Tuesday, a bill which will pave the way for reform was tabled in the House of Representatives.
The bill is in keeping with a report of a 1995 joint-select-committee recommendation that certain public offices and institutions be included in the Constitution.
If approved by Parliament and passed into law, it will allow local authorities to generate and spend their own funds, and prescribe any matter relating to the governance of such local authorities.
The bill's content
The bill states that the purpose of local government should be to encourage and assist the effective participation of local communities in the affairs of local government.
In addition, the bill proposes that local authorities be given the ability to provide local public services and facilities and to carry out other related activities for the benefit of local communities and the wider public.
Local authorities are also to be given the ability to perform regulatory functions to facilitate the management, improvement and development of resources of local communities.
Scean Barnswell, chairman on the Association of Local Government Authorities of Jamaica, and mayor of May Pen, said the bill signals that the Government is serious about giving autonomy to parish councils.
"There will be no more fear that a minister, with the strike of a pen, can close down a council or abolish local government," Barnswell said.
He argued that while successive governments have proposed to include local government in the Constitution, they have never followed through on the promise.
Barnswell said that local-government reform will mean that citizens will have a greater opportunity to participate in decision-making at the local level.