JIS News

Twelve years after the Local Government reform process was embarked on, the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport remains confident that it was a move in the right direction.
Consultant on Local Government Reform in the Ministry, Keith Miller, told JIS News that the reform “has been established and is certainly supported by all the recent thinking in other countries and in Jamaica, that a well working Local Government system is very important for addressing many of the problems and issues that we face”.
The reform was initiated with the aim of increasing the capacity of local authorities to carry out their functions with less reliance on Central Government.
This empowerment of the councils, Mr. Miller informed, was motivated by the desire to establish the mechanisms that would “enhance the delivery of services and respond to the needs of people in a more effective way”.
As a result, Parish Councils have a much more significant allocation of funding. They also have a broader mandate than they had before the reform, and they have a greater level of control in determining the strategies they employ.
Mr. Miller argued that, “what is going to bring about a transformation of the society is when you devise a structure of governance that facilitates the majority of citizens feeling that they can participate and be brought into the mainstream”.
He stressed that “local government is critical to the new emerging citizens that we have in the 21st Century, who are not prepared to be mere spectators. Any system that does not facilitate their involvement in some way or the other, in making choices and in participating, is going to run into serious problems in terms of feelings of alienation and people resorting to antisocial behaviour”.
With the components – citizen participation and democratisation of governance interwoven into the reform process – Mr. Miller illustrated its benefit by alluding to the increased compliance of taxpayers who pay their property taxes. This occurred when they learnt that their property taxes financed streetlights and the enhanced public awareness was partly as a result of being involved in the governance process.
Commenting on the performance of Mayors, Mr. Miller pointed out that tremendous strides have been made in improving their performance since reform was instituted. “We are coming from a situation in which Local Government, in the past, had not performed as we would like it to perform,” he said, while acknowledging that as the process is ongoing, improvements would continue to occur.
In evaluating the option of replacing Parish Councils with regional councils and appointing city managers in each municipality, Mr. Miller conceded that the notion was not without value. He said that the close working relationship between councils would make it possible to merge some of them into regions.
He pointed out, however, that such a drastic move was not within the country’s financial reach at this time.