Colin Campbell | Same knife stick sheep, stick goat
The decision of Andrew Holness’ government to again postpone the local government election (LGE), constitutionally due in November 2020, is a significant factor in the current evolving Jamaican political landscape.
Jamaica Labour Party government spokesmen thought that as usual, the argument that the People’s National Party did it, too, would be sufficient. So they doubled down with a few other flimsy excuses in the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons of the Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act. More time is needed for Portmore to become a parish, the unstable global economy and the elections are too expensive, claims that are all poppycock, as the English would say.
First, the Government has no control over the two latter excuses, and the first needs the support of the people of Portmore for the latter to be valid or truthful.
So “the same knife stick sheep, stick goat” argument is left to carry the battle by itself. The problem is that the tit-fo- tat argument cannot carry the fight in the changing Jamaican political landscape, where the diehards are down to a bare minimum. Even within the diehards, some no longer run with arguments that get them laughed out of court.
Political narratives must stand on their own because people are not looking at what party is, but what party does. Nobody is following Bustamante until he is dead, and it’s not the same old People’s National Party down in my heart.
Perhaps the postponement narrative could also not survive the conspiracy of circumstances, including the new Road Traffic Act, the Integrity Report fingering the rpime minister, a new spike in crime, political arrogance in the executive, and the poor quality of representation offered by MPs in the Class of 2020, many of whom were surprised by their victory.
GOVERNMENT IS AFRAID
Some people have advanced the argument that the Government is afraid to face the electorate - and recent poll numbers may well be confirmatory - but I think it’s more related to one of the oldest beliefs in Jamaican politics. Never go to a local election if a general is within sight because people may vote general. Mid-term has already passed in the 2020-2025 term.
But I digress. In July 2015, both Houses of Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution to entrench local governance and “to ensure the continuity of the local government system in Jamaica and the benefits that local governance brings to communities and the citizenry”. The Constitution (Amendment) (Local Government) Act was part of recommendations made in the August 1993 Report on the Constitution of Jamaica and the May 1995 final report of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Constitutional and Electoral Reform.
The amendment also empowered local authorities with the ability to perform regulatory functions to facilitate the management, improvement, and development of resources of local communities. In addition, three strategic laws - the Local Governance Act, the Local Government (Unified Service and Employment) Act, and the Local Government (Financing and Financial Management) Act - were passed to enhance the local system.
The first included the set term of four years while the latter set out how the provision and management of financial resources should be handled. None of the provisions of the laws are being observed with elections being postponed perpetually and financial resources being provided not according to the law, but the wishes of central government.
The Government, being in breach of the new charter for local government, is now wary of the people as the fake excuses do not sit well. The Government is depending on the fact that the electorate is not up to speed on the new system.
The Government must eschew its base instincts and respect the spirit and terms of the new local governance constitutional framework and the legislation it enthusiastically supported in 2015 and 2016. Huge parliamentary majorities are neither an antidote nor a panacea for local reaction when it comes in full force.
The waning of the base support requires the Government not to appeal to party loyalty alone, but to also account for its stewardship and justify the billions spent without the requisite improvement to local communities and parishes.
The Municipal Councils are now in danger of not being refreshed until after the general elections of 2025 although we know that that is not written on a tablet of stone. But it is safe to assume that no government will go with a local election so close to a general, particularly if polls are tight.
The Holness administration has done a major disservice to the 16 divisions now without any representation in the Municipal Corporations, which are responsible for most of the daily services affecting urban and rural life. To tell people awaiting local services for years to wait another year or two is not only unfair, it is unconscionable.
Never forget where the phrase “no taxation without representation” came from. And never forget that the people shall not hold them guiltless for denying them their most basic right to elect a representative.
Colin Campbell is a former minister of state in the ministry of local government and a former general secretary of the PNP. Send feedback to email@example.com.