By Victor Cummings, Guest Columnist
Recently in the press, there have been calls for a redefinition of the role of our elected officials. Several commentators have gone as far as to blame the elected representative as the source of all ills our society is experiencing.
Having had the privilege to serve as both a councillor for the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation and member of parliament and experienced, first-hand, the demands of the represented, I must enter the debate.
The system of governance, as currently structured, forces one to be hypocritical or corrupt in order to succeed. A constituent once said to me, "... Mi expect you fi tief like di rest a dem and come share it wid wi. A wha mek you too good fi do dat?" I could not convince her that that was wrong. "A di runnings, dat, you fi do it."
A person I once respected stated, "The job of representation is to get money into the hands of the people, by any means necessary." Is there a wonder why we cannot move forward?
At the heart of the problem is not the limited resources (that is of concern) but rather our system of governance. An MP who is active across his/her constituency, attending community meetings, informing residents of plans, and having regular communication will not have problems with the wider constituency. The problem is the local political organisation, or as Prof Carl Stone termed it, 'Capture by Partisanship'.
With MPs being responsible for the distribution of scarce resources, the problem is compounded. To survive, you must deal with your local political organisation first. As pointed out to me, 'Parson christen him pickney first.' Doing so ensures a cadre of workers when election is called.
The approach I took did not find favour with the organisation. My focus was on the schools and elderly. With the assistance of overseas friends, more than 300 computers and containers of books were donated. Computer rooms were established or expanded in all schools in the constituency. Monthly, we received donations of food that was distributed to the elderly, and we had a doctor conducting regular visits.
In addition, GraceKennedy and Company allowed us to use its facilities for a monthly community meeting of all leaders across the constituency. These leaders were drawn from citizens' associations, police youth clubs, parent-teacher associations, churches, police, and corners. All were invited, regardless of political affiliation.
At these meetings, I discussed any Social and Economic Support Programme (precursor to Constituency Development Fund) allocation and asked for feedback and recommendations on its use. We also raised the issue of violence and came up with strategies to deal with any outbreaks of violence. Needless to say, the local political organisation did not find favour in this approach.
We have talked ad nauseam about community empowerment. Do we truly want it? What about the old idea of community councils? The people know more of their needs and priorities than an MP, and if allowed they can police the expenditures fairly.
The joint select committee on local government reform and the Local Government Advisory Committee led by the late Prof Rex Nettleford endorsed the concept of community councils and went even further in suggesting that a system be put in place to allow these councils to have responsibility for the allocation of these resources.
The job of the MP would become true REPRESENTATION - attending community council meetings, advocating on behalf of the council, working with it to develop plans for the constituency, and representing the wishes of the constituency to agencies and ministries. Here we have the beginnings of true community empowerment.
Victor J.N. Cummings is a former People's National Party parish councillor and member of parliament. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.