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Be honest with the people, UWI lecturer warns candidates

Published:Tuesday | November 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A resident of Cooke Street in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, pokes a stick into a storm drain which is a major source of offensive odours and hazards in the community. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

Dr Lloyd Waller, head of the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, has called for politicians to be "honest with the people" about the things that can be achieved within constituencies.

Waller told The Gleaner yesterday that the advice should be heeded by the contestants for the December 1 by-election in Central Westmoreland.

Three candidates - Dwayne Vaz, of the People's National Party (PNP); Faye Jacobs, of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP); and independent candidate Ras Astor Black - have been nominated to contest the election, which is being used to choose the replacement for Roger Clarke, the member of parliament who died in office in August.

Across the constituency, the demands from residents are similar - they want better roads, improved water supply, and jobs. There are some areas with unique challenges, such as the need for drain cleaning in sections of Savanna-la-Mar, such as Twelve Street, and Georges Plain in Frome.

"You can't always blame the Government. We do have financial concerns and I think politicians going into politics, running for seats, must be honest with the people. They need to let the people understand the circumstances and the situation that we are currently in," Waller said.

Domino Effect

The UWI lecturer noted that there are fears of a domino effect from slower-than-anticipated growth in the global economy and, in particular, the fact that Japan has gone into a recession.

Nonetheless, Waller said it was important that elected representatives be held accountable by their constituents.

"They need to have some scorecard methods of holding them accountable. Unfortunately, the Constitution doesn't facilitate a recall of members of parliament," said Waller, a senior lecturer in methodology and political sociology.

Former Central Westmoreland MP Dr Karl Blythe, who served from 1989 to 2007, told The Gleaner last week that people generally overestimate the role of an MP, saying the most they can do is make representation.

"You have to differentiate what an MP can do and what a portfolio minister can do. MPs can't fix road and ... people must understand that," Blythe said.

MPs currently get $15 million to spend in their constituencies yearly under the Constituency Development Fund.

Waller said that amount is "very insufficient to service an entire constituency".

The lecturer agreed with Blythe, even while arguing that representation includes lobbying not only the Government but also private-sector entities, non-governmental organisations and international agencies.

Waller also said that because of Jamaica's political culture, the matter of lobbying the Government presents a potential conflict of interest.

"It is very problematic to get effective representation in an instance where you are part of the party which makes you part of a formal collective responsibility, and to act on behalf of your constituency may mean to challenge your party. It may also be problematic for you, especially if you are an aspiring individual who, in addition to being a member of parliament, wants to be a minister or part of an inner circle," Waller said.

JLP Supporters Looking for Win

For residents of Cooke Street, a solid JLP area in Savanna-la-Mar, it matters not what methods their MPs adopt. They want their murky drains, stifled with vegetation and refuse, cleaned.

"We used to lose, so if we lose this time, we goin' feel a way, but we used to it. This time we a look fi winnings. We nah look fi nuh switching because most of who used to vote PNP nah vote, cause suffering deh pon dem," a Cooke Street resident said.

"We still have choice and we can choose between Labourite and PNP anytime. A nuh-nuh sure shot fi PNP, because we done show dem already dat we nuh waah who dem di a push and so we gi dem who we want and we can show dem we can choose fi Labourites now," the resident added.

His reference was to the insistence by PNP delegates that they vote to select the candidate after the party's hierarchy had imposed Michael Erskine on them as the standard-bearer. Following an election, Vaz secured an overwhelming victory that moved him from being Clarke's CDF officer to potential MP.

One PNP worker told The Gleaner that it was not a question of whether Vaz would win the election, but rather a matter of when. The woman told The Gleaner that while JLP-controlled areas such as Cooke Street may be publicly endorsing Jacobs, the Vaz factor blowing through the constituency has swung several votes his way.

"There is a love that is on the ground for him. The Labourites will not tell you publicly, but they will be coming out to vote for Comrade Vaz, who is not only the better candidate but, unlike his rival, understands the needs of the people," the PNP supporter said.

The leadership of both political parties have been busy campaigning in Central Westmoreland, which the PNP has held since 1989. Clarke won the seat in 2011 by 3,042 votes.