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Two Bills were passed in the House of Representatives yesterday (Dec. 6) to allow for the postponement of Local Government Elections for one year.
The Bills, which were piloted by the Minister of Local Government and Environment, Dean Peart are titled: An Act further to postpone the holding of General Elections under the Parish Councils Act and An Act further to postpone the holding of a General Election under the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation Act.
According to Minister Peart, the postponement of the local elections would allow for the completion of internal audits of the parish councils and to implement local government reform.
“Postponing the Local Government Elections at this time will allow us to advance this process, and will also help to ensure that when these elections are held, it will be on the basis of the full understanding of the local governance issues involved rather than being conducted essentially on the basis of national issues, which is likely to be the case if they are held now,” he told the House.
He said the elections would be held on a date no later than December 31, 2007.
This is the second postponement of the elections, which were constitutionally due between the period March to June 2006. However, as a result of delays in finalizing the voters list following the re-verification of the voters’ exercise, Parliament, in June, approved the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation General Election (Postponement) Act, 2006 and the Parish Councils General Election (Postponement) Act 2006, which delayed the elections until no later than December 31, 2006.
But Mr. Peart, in justifying the need for a further delay, said that over the past year and a half, serious concerns have been expressed on several occasions regarding the manner in which the Local Authorities have been carrying out their functions, particularly in relation to the procurement of goods and services and the additional time, would allow investigation into the matter. “There have been reports of blatant breach of the Government procurement procedures,” he told the House.
He added that as a result of these concerns, the Office of the Contractor General and more recently the internal auditors of the Ministry of Local Government and Environment, were requested to “carry out an audit of each Local Authority with a view of determining the true state of affairs in respect of compliance with the procurement procedures”.
In the meantime, Mr. Peart said that audits were in progress or would be undertaken in respect of all Councils that have not yet been audited.
“These audits will be conducted by the Internal Audit Unit of the Ministry. However, the findings from these audits will be referred to the Auditor General for his review and direction,” the Minister informed.
He added that the Ministry has already forwarded the audit of the St. Catherine Parish Council to the police for review. Audits have so far been carried out in six local authorities namely, Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, St. Mary Parish Council, St. James Parish Council, Westmoreland Parish Council, St. Catherine Parish Council and the Portmore Municipal Council.
Opposition Spokesperson on Local Government and Environment, Shahine Robinson raised objection to the reasons given for the further delay in holding the elections, stating that, “these elections ought not to have been postponed.
Local Government Elections were last held on June 9, 2003.