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EDITORIAL - Glimmer of hope for local government

Published:Thursday | March 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THIS NEWSPAPER has not, for a very long time, been a fan of Jamaica's local government apparatus. Indeed, we have in recent years advocated for the abolition of the parish councils and for their replacement by city and/or regional municipal managers directly accountable to a committee of Parliament.

Thinking Jamaicans, we feel, grew similarly disenchanted with the parish councils. For the councils gave the appearance of mindless, inefficient and corrupt institutions, whose elected members seemed not to be accountable to their constituents.

Rather, councillors behaved as poodles to members of the national Parliament, or aspiring parliamentarians, whose constituencies overlap their local government divisions. Indeed, this alienation from local government, as is the case with national representative politics, was highlighted again on Monday in the municipal elections. Only 34.4 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots.

However, although we remain sceptical about any inclination to transform local government into a genuinely functional and accountable apparatus, responsive to broad interests of communities rather than narrow party concerns, we confess to being more open to persuasion than at any time in the recent past.

Possibilities in manifesto pledges

This glimmer of optimism has little to do with pledges by the contestants in Monday's poll to improve the delivery of local services. They should do that. Rather, we see possibilities in the local government manifesto pledges of the People's National Party (PNP), which won most of the councils to add to its control of the national Parliament.

While we are not convinced that maintaining 13 parish councils is functionally or economically justified, we appreciate the logic of the proposal for the constitutional entrenchment of local government to ensure that it does not operate merely at the whim of the political centre.

We agree with the need for clear and legislatively enunciated responsibilities for local government. Laws to ensure this, and providing the necessary insulation from interfering ministers, need not wait for complex and time-consuming constitutional change. Indeed, the prospect of a local government authority, say, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), declaring a region of the Corporate Area a local development area, and pursuing policies to implement this, holds attraction.

No long-winded waffle

Obviously, these ideas need discussion and debate. We do not, however, expect the long-winded waffle that has attended more than two decades of so-called local government reform. Of this, there is little of value to show.

Should the political parties, and primarily the Government, be serious about these new reforms, we expect that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will soon have circulated a Green Paper on the issue and appoint a local government minister with the gravitas and competence to get serious things done.

Additionally, the ideas elaborated by the PNP, if they are to work in practice, will demand a new quality of representation and leadership at the councils. Serious representatives could no longer be on the leashes of MPs or constituency caretakers.

Their main responsibilities can't be partisan jaw-boning at windy, usually pointless, monthly meetings, the enrolment of poor-relief recipients, or as conduits for the delivery of the tiny dice of pork available from the Constituency Development Fund.

In this regard, we see hope in the configuration of the KSAC. But old habits die hard. We are prepared for disappointment.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.