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LETTER OF THE DAY - 'The Municipality of Portmore'

Published:Saturday | March 31, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:ALTHOUGH THERE are 12 electoral divisions that should comprise the Municipality of Portmore, up from 11 previously, after the swearing-in ceremony for councillors, only 10 now sit in the Municipal Council. This is acknowledged by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) in its March 5, 2012 memorandum to all candidates in the local government elections in St Catherine. This situation is as a result of bungling on the part of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ)/ECJ. The background to this is as follows.

The Municipality of Portmore, established in 2003 pursuant to the Municipality Act, comprised 11 electoral divisions, spanning three constituencies:

all five electoral divisions in the constituency of South East St Catherine, viz Waterford, Independence City, Westchester, Edgewater and Bridgeport divisions;

five of the six electoral divisions in the constituency of South St Catherine, viz Hellshire, Braeton, Greater Portmore East, Greater Portmore North and Naggo Head divisions (the electoral division of Bernard Lodge was excluded); and

one electoral division in the then constituency of South Central St Catherine, viz Gregory Park division.

There were changes made by the EOJ in the configuration of constituencies in St Catherine from which the 11 electoral divisions were drawn to comprise the Municipality of Portmore. The Municipality of Portmore should now comprise 12 electoral divisions rather than 11 - five in South East, four in South, and three in the new East Central St Catherine constituency. These electoral divisions were signed off on by the EOJ for the 2011 general elections.

New boundaries needed

The EOJ/ECJ would have known that the constituency and divisional boundary changes made by it would require change to the boundaries of the Municipality of Portmore. The EOJ/ECJ knew that local government elections were postponed to be held no later than March 30, 2012. What ought to have been done to comply with the Municipality Act was to redraw, and officially promulgate, the new boundaries of the Municipality of Portmore to take into the Municipality the area formerly known as the Bernard Lodge division.

The law provides that the Municipal Council shall be constituted as follows:

a) a mayor;

b) a deputy mayor; and

c) the councillors who represent electoral divisions that fall entirely within the boundaries of the

Municipality.

The boundaries of the Municipality of Portmore were not redrawn and officially promulgated prior to nomination day, although a hurried attempt was made to do so, and which I am informed contained errors in the new description of the Municipality. The result of this bungling is that the Greater Portmore North division has 23 polling divisions (PDs) that are within the Municipality and seven which are not, and the Portmore Pines division has 19 PDs that are within the Municipality and nine which are not.

And so, on March 26, the voters in 23 PDs in Greater Portmore North and in 19 PDs in Portmore Pines divisions received two ballots - one for mayor and one for councillor - while the voters in seven PDs in Greater Portmore North and 9 PDs in Portmore Pines divisions received only one ballot for councillor. Because these two divisions do not fall "entirely within" the Municipality of Portmore, the councillors elected to these two divisions are councillors of the St Catherine Parish Council only, and cannot sit in the Portmore Municipal Council. So the Municipality will now have only 10 councillors.

Dilemma

But a dilemma remains. Is it that the councillors for these two divisions will have to make representations to the St Catherine Parish Council in respect of the seven and nine PDs, respectively, but make representations to the Portmore Municipal Council in respect of the 23 and 19 PDs, respectively, which fall within the Municipality?

And further, will there be allocations in Spanish Town to these councillors for work in seven and nine PDs, respectively, and a separate allocation in the Portmore Municipality for the 23 and 19 PDs?

While these councillors will have full authority over expenditure in the seven and nine PDs which are in the St Catherine Parish Council where they sit, they will have no legal authority over expenditure in the 23 and 19 PDs which are in their divisions, as they are not members of the Portmore Municipal Council. Who will exercise authority over expenditure in those 23 and 19 divisions?

Information is that the EOJ/ECJ has intimated that as soon as the boundaries are properly redrawn and officially promulgated, the two councillors will be able to sit in the Portmore Municipal Council. But they were not qualified to sit in the Portmore Municipal Council when they were elected. By what legal authority will they then be 'placed' in the Portmore Municipal Council? Further, when that time comes, the mayor will then be presiding over a Municipality for which some 16 PDs, formerly an entire electoral division, did not have the chance to vote for him. And bear in mind that he is a directly elected mayor. What authority will he have over those areas? I will be watching this matter and when that time comes I will have more to say.

Bruce Patterson