Local Government and Community Development Minister, Hon. Noel Arscott, has underscored the pivotal role which local authorities must play in sustaining good governance in communities, by seeking to assist them in overcoming challenges, particularly crime and violence.
Speaking at a parish safety and security workshop, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston on May 9, Mr. Arscott said issues associated with the creation and maintenance of peaceful, safe and secure communities are “major priorities” of the "revitalised" local governance system.
He pointed out that crime and violence within homes, schools and communities are among the “most pressing” social issues the country currently faces.
Against this background, Mr. Arscott asserted that the local government system “must become a part of the overall system of creating a safe environment for the communities it manages."
He pointed out that the roles of Councillors are being expanded, to lead initiatives that create and maintain safe and secure communities, such as the two-year United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-sponsored ‘Enhancing Civil Society Participation in Local Governance for Community Safety’ initiative, currently being undertaken, in collaboration with the Ministry.
Launched in March 2011, the project takes a citizen security approach to developing sustainable long-term strategies focusing on improved partnerships among civil society, local authorities, and central state agencies to prevent and mitigate the effects of crime and violence.
It seeks to improve stakeholder capacity at the parish and community levels to engage in development planning and action to address crime and violence; build the capacity of local authorities and civil society at the parish level to collaborate in planning and implementing local development; and assist with the formulation of the necessary tools and instruments for local level co-ordination and action to prevent and mitigate the effects of crime and violence.
The project is currently being executed as a pilot in six parishes – St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Mary, Trelawny, and Westmoreland.
Mr. Arscott pointed out that the project has made “strides’ in the pilot parishes, through the various researches, workshops and technical training sessions and capacity assessments being undertaken.
He made special mention of the St. Catherine and Clarendon Parish Development Committees (PDCs), which have contributed to a reduction in crime in those parishes, while facilitating peace-building by bridging divided communities and re-building confidence among stakeholders, in partnership with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
Additionally, he said the St. Catherine Parish Council has collaborated with them St. Catherine Police Division, to clean-up and maintain the main thoroughfares in and around Spanish Town. He also commended the role and contribution of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) in the fight against crime, particularly in Clarendon.
“Certainly, these positive outcomes are as a result of effective civil society action through their respective Crime Prevention Committees. It is initiatives, such as these, that this UNDP project seeks to extend and enhance through continued collaboration between PDCs and their local authorities, as a sustainable means of addressing community safety and security,’ the Minister said.
In his remarks, National Security Minister, Hon. Peter Bunting, endorsed the project, citing the reduction in crime statistics, particularly murders this year.
He stressed that any progress made in this regard, solely by policing, “will be fragile,” unless a “whole society” approach is taken to effect a change in the culture of crime.
For his part, UNDP Resident Representative in Jamaica, Dr. Arun Kashyap, cited local government as central to community and national development. Noting Jamaica’s rich local government history, Dr. Kashyap pointed out that significant innovations have been implemented to achieve greater de-centralisation and enhancement at this level.
“The current project is one of those innovations in which partnerships among the UN agencies, local government institutions and the parish development committees have resulted in important lessons for good local governance to facilitate safety and security in communities,” Dr. Kashyap said, while expressing gratitude to the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development for facilitating the initiative.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter