Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Local authorities prepared to boost economic growth

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMClaudia Gardner
Students of the Montego Bay Community College tend to vegetables at the institution's demonstration plot at the Montpelier Agricultural Showgrounds in St. James. Agriculture has been cited as one of the vehicles of growth by councillors of some Municipal Corporations in the West.

Senior councillors of municipal corporations in western Jamaica say that councils will be playing a greater role as drivers of growth and economic development in the region during this term.

Under the Local Governance Act of 2015, municipal authorities are mandated to, among other things, initiate, promote, and spearhead economic development, urban renewal, and the alleviation of poverty.

Councillor of the Flanker Division in St James, Charles Sinclair, says that among the hindrances to the growth agenda, which must be addressed quickly, are the delays in the processing of building and subdivision applications.

"In respect of subdivisions, we have to look at the areas where people have applied because there are recommendations that come from people who want to do developments in some areas, but some government agencies submit recommendations for the area not to have change of use. Council can facilitate dialogue between communities and developers to see how best we can find a position midway to accommodate all persons," Sinclair, who is also an attorney-at-law, said.

 

REFORMING COURTS

 

"One critical component is the amendment of restricted covenants that can stymie and delay development. For persons seeking to get an amendment to the restrictive covenants, you have to go through the courts, and the courts process can take a very long time. We have to look at those laws to make amendments, where we can exclude the courts process and only bring it in if it becomes necessary where there are objections, by, say, a neighbour. That would be a major contributor to growth and development and add to GDP because people have to be involved in construction, and at the end, people will be employed in those businesses," he added.

Sinclair said that many local authorities own properties that are unutilised and which could be sold and the returns put back into the same communities where they are located to undertake capital improvements such as roads and sidewalk construction.

"Councillors can apply themselves and think outside the box and have discussions with their communities and use the law (Local Government Financial Management Act) to get projects done and empower their communities,"

Sinclair said.

In Westmoreland, councillor of the Negril Division, Bertel Moore, who is expected to be sworn in as chairman of the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation this Thursday, said that agriculture as an engine of economic growth is his number-one priority. He said his municipality, in collaboration with the Westmoreland Parish Development Committee, has already undertaken local economic initiatives across the parish, with donor-agency support.

"We are looking at a collaboration with the Japanese for two greenhouses for the farmers in the Sheffield area, hoping they will be able to produce more to supply the hotels. We also have an exchange programme with the Japanese, where we send technical people here (who work) in agriculture to go and see how they do things there," Moore said.

"We have to look seriously at how we can get employment. We are in discussion with a French company to do a solar energy system to supply electricity in August 2017. They will be employing about 200 people. Also, there is a seafood project for fishermen along the Whitehouse and Little Bay areas. So we are looking at programmes to get funds from donor countries, working through our PDC," he added.

In St Elizabeth, councillor Jeremy Palmer says that the local authority will be integral to driving growth, especially in rural communities. Like Sinclair, he said, going forward, in its planning remit, the council can play a critical role in economic development and the stimulation of growth through the speedy turnaround of planning applications and infrastructure projects.

 

NEED FOR CONSTRUCTION

 

"Any form of growth in the economy is going to involve some amount of construction. And as a prerequisite to construction, planning permits must be delivered in a timely manner," he said.

"The municipal authorities also have oversight responsibility for a major part of the road network of the country. These roads, many of them in critical communities, are generally not in good condition," he said. "If we were to have a comprehensive road-rehabilitation programme, that would be a major growth area. It would certainly create a lot of employment and scope for extraction of raw material like quarrying, which would be used in the constriction process."

He added: "The most critical and positive spin-off from all of that would be access to these once-isolated communities and the economic activities that could be generated, not only in respect of local people, but to farmers. Some of them would be prime residential areas if you had proper roads going into them."