Focus to be Placed on Local Government Reform – Montague


Minister of State with Responsibility for Local Government, Robert Montague, said that over the next 24 months, focus will be placed on implementing the Local Government Reform Programme, which will provide more autonomy, resources, and greater responsibility to local authorities island wide.
“People would like to know that their streetlights work, know that the drains are clean, know that roads are repaired, know that in the case of an emergency, they can depend on their local authorities. We want to put that power into the hands of the local authorities and the local councils, so that the citizens can get the sort of service that they pay for,” Mr. Montague told JIS News in a recent interview.
He said for example, if a parish council requests the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) to repair a broken streetlight and this is not done, then the council will have the authority to withhold payment to the JPS. He said the same would obtain for other services like garbage collection, where the authority could withhold payment for poor or no service.
According to Mr. Montague, the restructuring of local government has been on the agenda for the past 30 years and there is agreement by all stakeholders on 95 per cent of the recommendations. He said that issues still to be decided on include the direct election of mayors and municipal status for large towns and cities like Montego Bay and May Pen, noting that consultations on these matters will continue.
The reform process, he said, will outline the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and clearly define the boundaries between local and central government, to ensure that there is no overlap and that local government is entrenched in the Constitution.
He noted that while central government will monitor and set the standards for service provision and financial accountability, the local authorities will be mandated to be transparent about their budgets and will have to give an account to the citizens on how money is spent.
“The reform aims to make local government a separate sphere from central government. Councillors are elected via separate elections but as it now stands, (the government) can dissolve a council without regard to the councillors, who were elected. By reforming local government, you are also reforming central government,” he pointed out. He indicated that the reforms will also mean strengthening the capacities of local authorities, the training of and recruitment of adequate staff.
He noted that while the reforms will not be completed in time for the upcoming local government elections, fully reformed councils should be presented to the electorate by the next elections.
Mr. Montague, who is chairman of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), was in London on route to Uganda for meetings and a review of the Aberdeen Agenda on Local Reform.
The CLGF brings together central, provincial and local spheres of government involved in local government policy and decision-making. It works to promote and strengthen democratic local government across the Commonwealth and to encourage the exchange of best practice through conferences and events, programmes and projects, and research and information.

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