Jamaicans are being urged to go out tomorrow (March 26) and vote in the Local Government Elections and make their voices be heard on issues concerning local governance.
"It's a participatory process and community members should not leave the governing of their communities and the decision making up to someone else without having a say,” said Consultant on Local Government Reform in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, Keith Miller.
Acknowledging an apparent apathy on the part of the public towards the elections, Mr. Miller told JIS News that Monday’s polls "is more than a matter of going to vote for a particular politician you might or might not support. It’s about how you as citizens are establishing the need to be consulted on and be part of the process of local governance and to have your voices heard."
He said that citizens must take a much greater interest in what happens at the local level to help shape the development of the parish, and the management of the local authorities.
Mr. Miller explained that a large part of the reform process is giving the authorities autonomy, with clearly defined areas of responsibility and access to adequate resources to carry out their work.
He said that the process is already underway, through participatory budgeting, where councils have begun to make public, how much money is available for the year. Citizens are invited to participate in deciding how the funds are allocated for the provision of services such as garbage collection and street lights.
"If citizens show strong interest, then it will be developed and refined, if not then we’ll revert to the old process where citizens just vote and go home and leave it to other people to make decisions for them, which they grumble on their verandahs about, but do nothing to change it,” Mr. Miller told JIS News.
He noted that through structures already in place such as the community development committees (CDCs) and the parish development committees (PDCs) citizens can be engaged “on the path the parish’s development should be taking and what resources are available, and how they should be used to achieve the collective goals that have been set."
Jamaica’s local governance system covers 14 parishes and comprises 12 parish councils, one municipal authority (Kingston and St. Andrew) and one municipality (Portmore).
The system is currently undergoing a process of reform, to make it a more efficient operating mechanism. The main outcomes are to provide for greater self-management over local affairs; greater participation of civil society in local governance and decision making, and enhancing good governance through encouraging inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and the adoption of high ethical standards in the management of local affairs.
The process involves: entrenching local government in the Constitution of Jamaica; recognising local government as a separate and autonomous sphere of government through the allocation of functions best administered and regulated at the local level; guaranteeing the security of financial resources for local authorities and the increased contribution of independent sources of their own income.
In addition, a modern legal framework will be provided for the viable operation of local authorities, including delineation of the scope and power of mayors, councillors and secretary managers, and the financing and the management of their human resources.
Other measures include rationalising the cost of providing services through regionalisation of specialised services; facilitating the adoption and application of appropriate technologies by local authorities; promoting meaningful participation of all groups, organisations and agencies in the governance processes of all communities; and developing communication strategies, which encourage consistent and open two-way communication between councils and citizens.
The process will also entail building institutional capacity in the local government system in order to: guarantee the provision of the highest quality of services delivery to communities; provide adequate responsiveness to citizen’s needs; ensure accountability and efficiency in managing the financial affairs of the local authorities and transparency in their operations.
By O. Rodger Hutchinson, JIS PRO