Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Local Gov't Strategic Laws gets mixed reviews

Published:Tuesday | December 13, 2016 | 12:00 AMClaudia Gardner
Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie (right), makes a point while addressing secretary managers of the island’s parish councils at the ministry’s Hagley Park Road offices in Kingston on March 18. At left is Permanent Secretary Denzil Thorpe.

There are mixed reviews from stakeholders in western Jamaica regarding the Local Government's Strategic Laws, which were enacted to, among other things, properly regulate the operations of the island's municipal corporations and hold transgressing officials accountable.

Proprietor of the Charela Inn in Negril, Sophie Grizzle, says that she remains sceptical about whether the laws will make a difference in freeing the councils of corruption as based on observation, the enforcement of sanctions on municipal officials who circumvent the law has been virtually non-existent.

"Only when they actually start doing it, will I believe," Grizzle said. "We have lots of laws, and a whole heap of people should have been arrested and gone to prison from long time, and nothing was done. So bringing in these new laws, if nobody enforces them, then it's a waste of time and paper, to be honest. (We need) less adding more laws and actually start doing stuff ... I would love to see them enforced. I would like to see a change and a new leaf turned over."

"If they get away with it for years, then they will keep doing it, but all you have to do is send one or two to prison or make a big thing out of it, then everybody will jump in line," she added.

President of the Veteran Farmers Alliance in Clifton, Hanover, Ray Kerr, while optimistic that the laws would curtail corruption, said that they would be of greater effect if councillors are not allowed to influence the hiring of employees or the selection of committee members.

"Those types of laws are long overdue. It will create a level of transparency and cut out the wanton corruption, but in that same vein, the ministry needs to employ the requisite skills in the councils too, so that will cut down on the corruption. Over the years, the politicians always influence (the employment of) some of the persons who come into the council," Kerr said.

"As for the Local Public Accounts Committee, it will work if persons are not hand-picked, and it reflects a wide cross-section of the community, who have a stake in the development of the parish, for example, the chamber and other NGOs ... persons who have expertise in accounting and management and understand technical language," he said.

 

TOO MUCH POWER

 

Meanwhile, Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie told Western Focus that amendments to the bills would be sought in the next three to six months as some sections are ineffective as they are without the accompanying regulations. He said that the removal of the political directorate from being signatories to accounts was crucial and described it as highly inappropriate and a "disaster waiting to happen".

"The essential part of it, like the one that speaks to financial control, is meaningless without the regulations because the regulations weren't put in place. So we are now working on those and, hopefully, by sometime next year, we will have all the regulations because that is what needs tightening up. What I think we need to look at strengthening are the aspects making the CEOs and the mayors accountable," McKenzie said.

"All of what we are proposing is not going to happen overnight. It means also, we have to make some changes to the existing bills - and we are prepared to do that because I think some of it transfers too much power back to the minister of local government. And what we want to do is put them on the path so they can be self-sufficient and cannot be manipulated by any minister," he added.

He said his ministry would be conducting training for councillors to ensure that they are au fait with the rules governing their conduct while in office.

"There are going to be four sensitisation programmes, starting January going into February, for the entire 228 councillors and mayor of Portmore. All the training programmes will be regionalised. That is a thrust of local government not to centralise the activities in the corporate area, but to take it to the respective areas. So if we can't take on a parish basis, we take it on a regional basis," McKenzie said.