More coherence needed in local governance
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The Local Governance Act, 2016 seeks to grant local authorities greater scope and autonomy in the management of local affairs, with an expanded and more holistic mandate for the good governance, sustainable development, and maintenance of good civic order within their respective jurisdictions and for connected matters. We must question the local government ministry and municipalities on what this means in a practical sense for Jamaica, especially during this pandemic.
Our economic realities suggest that genuine local autonomy is almost a pipe dream even as local government bears the responsibility for implementation of a central policy. Yet, there seems to be little attention given to the readiness and capacity of the municipalities to not only provide their services, but produce reliable governance. Local government has long been losing credibility among the populace, with its core functions being overshadowed by allegations of inept leadership, corruption, and just a general lack of vision. Many have argued that the current local model needs tweaking as 228 municipal councillors may be overkill for a small island nation, and some suggest county governments instead.
Whether you agree or disagree with the recent decision by the Cabinet and central government to continue the curfew method of ‘controlling’ mass gatherings in public spaces throughout the holiday shopping period given the pandemic, the fact is that the Municipal Corporations (formerly Parish Councils) now have greater responsibility for managing towns and commercial areas for the safety of the general public, shoppers, and vendors alike. With the yearly Christmas showdown between the local authorities and market vendors about who is licensed to sell where vending is allowed being conflated with curfew policing, should we expect more manpower and resources being channelled to assist mayors to manage their towns?
The central government often tells us how consultative they have been and how they seek to have participatory governance. Civil society, private sector leaders, and churches are normally at the top of this consultative process, but where do the local leadership, inclusive of mayors and councillors or caretakers, Custos, and even community leaders across the political divide, fit in? In many countries, including the United States, the executive branch of government conducts regular meetings with local government leadership.
We know a collective approach is being taken to combat COVID-19, but we need to get a clear indication that the political leadership in charge of day-to-day implementation is heard.