Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
ROBERT MONTAGUE, a former minister with responsibility for local government, walked across the floor of the Senate and shook hands with Wensworth Skeffery yesterday after the government senator opened debate on a motion for local government reform.
Skeffery, a first-term senator, called for radical reform of local government, including a fixed election date for local government elections.
He said the elections should be set in the Constitution for a three- or four-year period "and therefore cannot be used to test the political temperature".
"We have seen where many of these elections have not been called on the due date because it is not entrenched in our Constitution," he noted.
"If we are going to move forward as a nation on a mission for the next 50 years, we must stop the tinkering and move and get it right, once and for all," Skeffery said.
At present, local government elections are due every three years while parliamentary elections are due every five years. There are no stipulations for either term limits or fixed election dates in the Constitution.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had proposed fixed election dates for parliamentary elections and term limits, but the suggestion was not entertained by the People's National Party (PNP), of which Skeffery is a member.
In the meantime, Skeffery used his presentation in the Senate yesterday to propose an urgent revision of the roles of members of parliament and councillors.
"The simple solution is that parish councillors focus on local concerns and members of parliament focus on national concerns and the oversight of their respective councillors," Skeffery said.
Arguing that development cannot take place without effective local government, Skeffery said centralisation places more strain on the members of parliament and Cabinet members.
"An effective local government would effectively free central government from micromanagement concerns such as responding to roadblock and demonstrations for community social services," Skeffery said.
He added: "This will definitely create much greater scope for central government to focus on macro-development considerations."
Meanwhile, noting that corruption is serious challenge to the country's governance systems, Skeffery said the necessary safeguards must be put in place at the parish-council level to guard against abuse of the public's purse.
"There can be no move to put more autonomy and more public resources in the hands of our authority, or any authority or agency until you put in place effective systems to mitigate corruption," he said.
Skeffery's motion calls for the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development to fast-track local government reform.