JIS News

During the past year, efforts have been ramped up to advance the Local Government Reform process, with the charge being led by Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), with responsibility for this portfolio, Robert Montague.
One of his first duties was a meeting on September 18, 2007, with the staff of the former Ministry, to introduce himself and quell rumours that staff would be the separated from their jobs, with the movement of the Local Government portfolio to the OPM.
As part of the reform process, the payment for street lighting, solid waste collection and standpipes were returned to the local authorities. Efforts were also strengthened to train and educate the local authorities and citizens about the new building code, in the thrust to enforce parish council regulations.
The defining of roles and responsibilities of Councillors and Councils was another issue put forward for attention by the State Minister. He said this would make them more effective in managing the local affairs of citizens.
“The draft Constitution amendments have been completed and the basic legal framework for Local Government are being established and presently we are far advanced in the drafting of the new Local Authority’s Act, which will see some 17 pieces of legislation being repealed and rolled into one Act, as there is a lot of confusion and anomalies within those 17 bits of legislation . so we can move on to defining roles and responsibilities of local authorities as well as that of Councillors,” Mr. Montague told participants at a meeting of the St. James Parish Council’s Disaster Preparedness Committee in Montego Bay last month.
The primary objective of Local Government Reform is to create a strong, viable and effective system of Local Government, which will deepen the democratic process and facilitate the empowerment of citizens by enabling them to participate more fully and directly in the process of governance and in the management of their own affairs.
Mr. Montague has said that an effort has been ongoing since January to have Parish Councils bring their accounts up to date, with special permission given for them to employ additional persons to complete the task, if necessary.
He pointed out there would be sanctions against Parish Councils that fail to satisfy this requirement.
“If you cannot give account for people’s money, you must not get anymore. Because come the first of November, any Council whose statements are not up to date, are not getting more of Government’s money,” he emphasised.
In an interview with JIS News, in October, 2007, Mr. Montague said that over the next 24 months, focus would be placed on implementing the Local Government Reform Programme, which would provide more autonomy, resources, and greater responsibility to local authorities islandwide.
“People would like to know that their street lights 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,” he said.
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,” the State Minister said.
Mr. Montague, who is also Chairman of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), journeyed to Uganda for meetings and a review of the Aberdeen Agenda on Local Reform.
The CLGF brought 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 practices, through conferences and events, programmes and projects, and research and information.
Mr. Montague lobbied the Diaspora’s support to provide care for the country’s indigent. Making the appeal at a town hall meeting in Toronto, Canada, he explained that there are two categories, those who have no home of their own, and reside at an infirmary, and those who live in their own homes, who would receive assistance to effect repairs their homes.
This was part of a wider proposal, which he made in the House of Representatives during his Sectoral Debate presentation, for the setting up of a $50 million Indigent Housing Fund. He called on fellow Members of Parliament (MP’s), to join in the worthy cause towards alleviating the plight of the homeless by putting $250,000 each into the Fund, to be administered by the Department of Local Government.
“If each MP agrees and signs the pledge forms that will be sent through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the Department would have received a total of $15 million,” he pointed out. Mr. Montague said that the Department of Local Government would match the $15 million collected and informed that the balance of $20 million would be attained from various avenues.
Meanwhile, at the handing over and commissioning of five new emergency tenders at the York Park Fire Station in Kingston, in April, the State Minister announced that the Jamaica Fire Brigade, through the Department of Local Government, would be embarking on a programme to improve the capabilities of its fireboats, by acquiring vessels that are more efficient and cost-effective.
Outlining other steps that are to be taken in this phase of the modernisation of the country’s fire service, Mr. Montague said a repair programme for the existing fleet, would also be undertaken.
The State Minister said it is expected that by the end of November this year, the first batch of trainees should graduate from the Brigade’s training facility.
Also, he informed that the Government is committed to rebuilding two fire stations in Montego Bay, St. James and in Port Maria, St. Mary.
Plans are being made for the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), which now falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, to be housed in a new building, the State Minister said in March.
He also informed that there are plans to upgrade the nation’s infirmaries and to utilise alternative sources of energy, in order to reduce the cost of operating many of the island’s infirmaries.