ignore accountability December
None of the island's three major political parties has clearly addressed the notion of accountability in governance in the election manifesto they have put forward for consideration, according to head of the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Brian Meeks.
"What is missing from the entire governance set of proposals is the question of accountability," Dr. Meeks said in a critique, specifically of the manifesto of the People's National Party (PNP).
"Accountability means a number of things," he said, adding that "we need to think them through and ask ourselves why the PNP manifesto does not have it and why I suspect the NDM does not have it and certainly the JLP ... does not have it," Dr. Meeks said.
He was speaking at a panel discussion on Local Government and Citizens Participation, hosted by the Coalition for Community Participation in Local Government at the Wyndham Kingston last Thursday evening. Dr. Meeks was one of three presenters who examined the manifestos of the three parties as they relate to citizens' role in governance.
He said there were a number of issues in which accountability may occur and one of them was that "manifestos become legal documents and if the government does not implement what is said in the manifesto", then members of the government responsible could be brought before the court.
"That is what accountability means," said Dr. Meeks, "or it can simply mean that it does not go a legal way but it goes a political way, and that you can recall somebody who said he's going to build a road across a river and doesn't build it, but comes inside here singing with rum and corned beef to buy your vote again."
Critical to the understanding of accountability, he said, was also the character of the electoral process. "And by this I am not talking about fingerprint and the minutiae of the present electoral process as to who is on the voters' list or who is not on the voters' list."
To that end, he said, proportional representation was raised by members of the PNP, but it was not mentioned in the manifesto. "What proportional representation would do is to eliminate some of the worst abuses associated with constituency democracy as practised in Jamaica," Dr. Meeks said, "and I am not suggesting that proportional representation can solve all problems, but it can begin to address some of those problems."
JLP, NDM failures
Lecturer in the Department of Government, Alison Anderson, who examined the JLP manifesto, said one of the key recurring phrases in the document was "building from the base". However, she said, "There is total silence on Local Government in the document and to the extent that the word community crops up ... it does so under the rubric of tackling inner-city blight by a programme of rehabilitation, building of community centres as hubs for sporting and cultural activities."
Miss Anderson thought that "giving the base something instead of empowering them to do their own thing lies at the heart of this manifesto. And therefore, in populist terms, its credentials are quite good and it will strike a responsive chord in some quarters".
According to the lecturer, "the manifesto speaks to things such as equity and the need to have social stability that is based on equal rights and justice. But on the significance of political units, other than the central government administration and of social groups that are at one both larger and smaller in the state apparatus itself, the document is silent."
Community development consultant, Horace Levy, said there were positives in the NDM manifesto, but some clarification was needed, for instance, on whether or not Local Government would be entrenched in the Constitution.
There was also an absence of any reference to community organisation and the Coalition would like to see powers devolved not only from central government to Local Government, but from Local Government down to community.