Thu | May 25, 2017

Something rotten in local government

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2015 | 7:00 AM
Shena Stubbs-Gibson
Bleach is used on cotton in a plastic bag to clean the dye off the fingers of those who voted in a recent local government elections.
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It was recently confirmed, after weeks of rumours, that local government elections would not be held this year.

The last local government elections were held in March 2012 and as such, by law, new elections should have been held by June 30, 2015. However, in a country with a practised indifference towards local government, the elections were tossed aside with a majority vote and the stroke of a pen in the Houses of Parliament.

Of course, both administrations have been guilty of this nonchalant attitude towards timely local government elections.

In June 2010, for instance, the previous government deemed it justifiable to postpone the then due local government elections on the bases that: 1) Local Government Reform Programme had not been completed; 2) the proposal to establish Portmore as the 15 parish had not yet been accomplished; and, 3) there was in effect a state of emergency in the Corporate Area and it was likely that it may have been extended beyond the initially prescribed period of one month.

Surprisingly, or in fact, maybe not surprisingly, the reasons advanced by this current administration are very similar to those advanced in 2010 by its predecessor in office, namely: more time is needed to implement elements of the Local Government Reform Programme and to complete the revision of electoral boundaries in the Portmore Municipality.

I imagine they could not have co-opted the third reason as well, since there is no state of emergency of any shape, way or form currently in place in Jamaica.

 

Postponed until 2016

 

By now, most of us have heard something to the effect that local government elections have been postponed to no later than December 29, 2016. However, the average citizen is unclear of the mechanism used by the Government to secure the postponement and whether this means that the law relating to the timing of local government elections has been altered permanently.

The mechanism the government utilised to postpone this year's local government elections was the passage of two acts in the Houses of Parliament, namely, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation General Election (Postponement) Act, 2015 and the Parish Councils General Election (Postponement) Act, 2015.

The content of both acts are by and large the same, with the primary difference being that one act is specific to the KSAC local government elections while the other governs the elections to the other parish councils. The Parish Councils General (Postponement) Act, section 2, for instance, provides that section 8 (1) of the parent Act (that is, the Parish Councils Act) is revised as follows:

"[delete old wording] : A general election of councillors to serve on the Parish Council shall be held in each parish in every third year on such day or days not earlier than in the month of March and not later than in the month of June, as the Governor General in council may by Proclamation appoint".

"[replace with new wording]: A general election of councillors to serve on each Parish Council shall be held in each parish on such day or days not later than the 29th day of December, 2016, as the Governor General in council may, by Proclamation, appoint".

The Kingston and St Andrew Corporation General Election (Postponement) Act, 2015, meanwhile, has the very worded counterpart to The Parish Councils General (Postponement) Act and also at its Section 2. However, as would be expected, the reference in the former legislation is to the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation and not to parish councils as in the latter.

 

"Sunset provision"

 

Other than Section 2, the other very important section of both bits of legislation is Section 4. In each act, Section 4 provides that the act in question shall continue in force until the 29th day of December, 2016. This kind of provision is referred to in some quarters as a "sunset provision" as it provides a definite date on which the law embodying it will cease to have effect.

In summary, therefore, the Government, for whatever reasons, real or imagined, thought it imprudent to honour the statutorily required deadline for the holding of local government elections, and as a consequence, using its parliamentary majority, opted, rather, to pass legislation to unlock the shackle of the old laws, (after all, the law should not be a shackle).

Not persuaded of the good sense of amending the law indefinitely, successive administrations have instead opted for sunset clauses to ensure the latitude thereby afforded them, is temporary and not permanent. The paucity of local government elections over the last two decades suggests the need for real reform and not short term fixes time and time again.

To advance in 2015, very similar reasons to those advanced in 2010 to postpone the then due local government elections, make a mockery of the genuineness of the reasons now being advanced. If the regurgitated setbacks continue to exist today, then they must also have existed in 2012 when we did, nevertheless, have a local government election.

Justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done. The shifting of goalposts just before kick-off will always give rise to the thought that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. If there are good reasons to shift the goalposts, then lets shift them once and for all rather than just before kick-off, then back to the old positioning. We have been doing this for too long now, lets get it right once and for all!

- Shena Stubbs-Gibson is an attorney-at-law and legal commentator. Send feedback to shena.stubbs@gleanerjm.com.

Twitter:@shenastubbs