Gov’t Committed to Empowering Parish Councils – Peart

Minister of Local Government and Environment, Hon. Dean Peart has expressed the government’s determination to empower parish councils, by providing them with necessary staff and equipment to function effectively.
“We want to give them more staff, to equip them at a higher level, and to genuinely work with them.but they have to understand that with the empowerment, comes more scrutiny, more transparency,” he told JIS News at a recent reception at Eden Gardens in Kingston for a delegation from the Scottish Local Government Authorities (COSLA).
Minister Peart also noted the state’s commitment to the process of local government reform, noting that a Parliamentary Committee had been convened, which will deliberate on the recommendations of the National Advisory Council (NAC) report on the reform process, as soon as consultations on the report were completed and a final document was submitted by the NAC.
With regard to the visit of the delegation from COSLA, Minister Peart said, “I welcome anybody coming here for us to enter into genuine dialogue as to what they are doing, as we need to move local government.”
The Scottish delegation visited the island from February 12-17, in support of their local counterpart, the Association of Local Government Authorities of Jamaica (ALGAJ). The main objective was for both groups to share best practices as it relate to the operation of local government in both precincts. During their stay, the group, led by President, Pat Watters, met with ALGA, the NAC, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, among other local government interests.
Mayor of May Pen and President of ALGA, Councillor Milton Brown, told JIS News that, “one of the major lessons that we learnt [from COSLA] is that, with an organized association supported by its members, not many significant decisions can be made in the country without having an input from the local authorities.”
He noted that from time to time, “the local authorities in Jamaica are called upon to give opinion on issues, and councillors are not in a position to research that information to enable us to put together a coordinated proposal”.
Contrastingly, Mayor Brown said that, in Scotland “they have teams that work religiously on issues that come to public attention and they enable their political directorate to make informed intervention on behalf of the people”. He indicated that this was one of the practices that ALGA would like to adopt.
With continued commitment from the membership of ALGA, Mayor Brown said that he expected that within five years, “we will have a strong local government authority and that ALGA will be in a position to influence national decisions more than we are now”.
In order to achieve this goal, Mayor Brown said, “we need to convince the Jamaican public that the association is the real instrument that is needed to move governance, and improve the credibility of local government by being transparent and delivering good service to the people”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Watters pointed out that the main difference between local government in both countries is that in Scotland, local government “pervades all the major services to our communities, such as education, social services, housing, road lighting, police, fire, and plumbing”, while in Jamaica, the power of the local authorities is limited.
Mr. Watters spoke commendably of the councillors, stating that one of their greatest strengths is “the absolute commitment of the elected members in local government, who are very passionate about (what) they do in their communities”.
Both ALGA and COSLA are members of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, which brings together local authorities of all the member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. COSLA’s visit to Jamaica was sponsored by the umbrella organization under its Good Practice Scheme.

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