Howard Hamilton, Contributor
The passing of the late Mayor George Lee has left the Municipality of Portmore at a crossroad. How the community progresses is now in the hands of its creator, the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development. At this crossroad, all the accolades and tributes must now be rested and the community be prepared to select its first post-George Lee era mayor.
It is heartening that the ministry of local government has seen it fit to engage a new policy director, with stated responsibility, among other things, for local government reform. This reform is long overdue. The manner of his appointment does not concern me at this time. My major concern is how effective he will be in bringing about the necessary changes that will move the community forward. With his youthful energy, this new appointee must position himself at the Portmore crossword and consider the following issues:
1 He must enact proceedings that will clearly identify the boundaries of the Portmore Municipality. This will allow the late mayor to rest in peace knowing that the situation that he described as untidy is addressed.
2 He must, in consultation with the relevant minister, approach Parliament to accord the incoming mayor full voting rights. In a system where Portmore's mayor is the only directly elected mayor, it is a downright shame to admit that after 10 years, this error/omission has not been corrected.
Without this right to vote, the mayoral position in Portmore is nothing more than symbolic, ceremonial, and at the government's pleasure. This is not in the interest of the people of Portmore.
3 If we really believe in an independent mayor who is selected not just by a parish council division or constituencies, but the entire municipality, then we must give the mayor an allocation. This allocation would be similar in nature to the Constituency Development Fund and to the allocations given to councillors. This will give to the mayor the ability to respond to his constituents. This will eliminate the need for the mayor to play politics with councillors and members of Parliament. This will give the mayor true independence. For local government to work, we must give the holder of the office the tools.
4 The new policy director must now also accelerate the local government reform process to reflect the aspirations of the residents. When Portmore was being granted municipal status, the thinking then was to create a council with greater autonomy than what existed. There was to be the changing and abolishment of some of the archaic and restrictive laws that hinder rather than facilitate the progress of the community.
One such law is that which mandates Portmore councillors to also attend the St Catherine Parish Council and not the reverse. The result is that over the years, some councillors only fulfil their most basic of obligations by sitting with the Portmore Municipal Council while in attendance at the St Catherine Parish Council.
If the people of Portmore elected them, then their first and only obligation must be to represent their constituents in Portmore. For those in doubt, check the records.
All the issues stated above need to be addressed before any election of a new mayor. It is in my humble opinion that if these are implemented, then we will be on our way to achieving the autonomy and independence for which we as a community agitated for over a decade.
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