Senate passes Local Government Bill
THE FAR-REACHING bill aimed at parachuting local governance into the protective ambit of the Constitution yesterday enjoyed the approval of all 17 senators present at yesterday's sitting of the Senate, but not before a former local government minister declared that the proposed legislation had not gone far enough.
Although Opposition Senator Robert Montague voted to grant the Upper Parliamentary chamber the required two-thirds majority to place local governance under constitutional protection, he complained that local government ministers still enjoyed sweeping powers.
"There are no practical and effective measures to protect local government, which is still at the mercy of Parliament," said Montague. "The minister still has the power of control. This is an insult to practitioners in the system."
The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been up in arms over a recent decision by the Govern-ment, which debated and passed three bills to postpone local government elections, which are overdue. The bill has given the Government until December 2016 to hold the elections.
Montague lamented that the minister is still empowered to exploit the political system with his or her power to postpone local government or municipal elections, as well as to dissolve parish councils.
"At this crowning moment of local government reform, we need to cut the apron strings and allow autonomy of local government," he said.
But government senator and current mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke argued that the bill being debated signals that entrenchment of local government is the path being pursued by the Government. She said that eventual entrenchment would address the concerns highlighted by Montague.
Brown Burke stressed that the difference between the activities and modus operandi of central and local governments must be factored into the reform processes.
She noted that whereas Cabinet takes decision at the central level, the system of local government ensures that practitioners from both sides of the political divide play a highly participatory role in the direction being pursued by parish councils.
In his comments, Opposition Senator Christopher Tufton said the legislation would grant local governance its rightful place in the Constitution. "This should translate to more local government that should be more responsive to the people."
Closing the debate, Government Senator Mark Golding asserted that the bill would ensure continuity of local government.