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People to get power to dissolve parish councils

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton

It is being proposed that a petition signed by 15 per cent of voters in a municipality be able to trigger the dissolution of a parish council, providing that the minister in charge of local government is satisfied that it is not competent to perform its duties or persistently fails to perform its lawful functions.

The petition provision is a new feature which forms part of the reform of local government, and is contained in the Local Governance Bill tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The bill also proposes that a report of the auditor general, the contractor general or other oversight organ of the State, charging a council with gross or persistent misconduct or persistent failure to discharge its legal responsibilities, may also trigger an investigation by the minister, leading to the dissolution of the council.

Accountability important

Gary Harriott, chairman of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, said yesterday that the issue of governance is "something that we are deeply concerned about, and we believe that persons must be held accountable for their leadership".

The bill places a requirement on parish councils to hold community meetings at least once per year to report to the local authorities inhabitants on its performance and plans.

"That is a brilliant idea," said youth advocate Kemesha Kelly. "If that passes, that to me, is a step in the right direction. You are actually allowing for greater public participation, which is important."

Noting that there should be a mechanism to record and follow-up on the meetings, Kelly said "the development of any policy must include dialogue with the people".

The Local Governance Bill is also proposing that the mayor of a municipality be impeached if 15 per cent of the electors within that municipality make such a recommendation.

A mayor of a municipality may also be impeached if a motion approved by two-thirds of the members of the city council alleging gross misconduct or dereliction of duty has been submitted to the portfolio minister.

If either circumstance occurs, the minister is obliged to institute proceedings, and if the allegations are substantial and proven, the minister shall bring a resolution to Parliament for the removal of the mayor.

Kelly said she was excited that the people, through the petition process, will now have the opportunity to secure the impeachment of a directly elected mayor or dissolve a local authority.

"When we think about a democracy, it should mean that our representatives speak on our behalf and, therefore, we have to legitimise their power. Whenever it is that we are disappointed, displeased or uncomfortable about their service, we must have some sort of mechanism to voice this displeasure, and I believe that this (the petition clause) is a good idea," Kelly said.

She said that if the bill is approved, the authorities must ensure that the citizenry is aware that the petition mechanism is available to them.