Time to restore local governance
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The axe that fell the tree of local governance as televised by TVJ’s Prime Time News, September 20, was delivered by the Edward Seaga-led administration in the 1980s when he, out of political malice, unconstitutionally dismantled the parish councils because the People’s National Party (PNP), having boycotted the 1983 general election, was victorious in the 1986 local government elections led by Councillor Michael Manley. Its official funeral occurred under the leadership of P.J. Patterson (PNP) in the ‘90s, who failed to restore the maintenance department that played a major role in the parish councils.
Prior to 1962, the governor could intervene in the councils, only to ensure that proper management of their local taxes were properly spent in the interest of the parish. Historically, our current municipalities/parish councils evolved from the local vestries of the parish churches across Jamaica. The vestries were responsible for local governance. And on many occasions, the members of the vestry summoned the local Assembly representative to instruct them to support or oppose varied laws in the Jamaica Assembly or Legislature.
Over the last 40 years, we have been wandering in political confusion between the roles of parish municipalities and their MPs.
In the United Kingdom, the primary responsibilities of members of parliament is to act in the national interest. (Hence the reason why our Constitution does not recognise political parties in the Parliament). They must also act in the interests of their constituents, where this does not override their primary responsibility. Finally, if they belong to a political party, they may act in the interests of that party, subordinate to the other two responsibilities. Here in Jamaica, it is the reversal.
In the constituency, MPs often hold a ‘surgery’ in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster. In Jamaica, despite the state of constituency debates at Gordon House, the reports of MPs generally reflect the responsibilities of local municipalities and tribal party handouts.
In civilised political jurisdictions, parish councils/municipalities are responsible for public services such as education, transport, strategic planning, emergency services, social services, public safety and waste disposal. The so-called reform of local governance in Jamaica has not moved in this direction. Instead, these responsibilities have been shifted to Kingston, creating chaos and shafting taxpayers.
Let us restore our local governance structures for the greater good of the nation.
DUDLEY MCLEAN II