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Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Local Government, Robert Montague, has charged parish council heads to establish new methods and employ new ways of thinking, particularly in this time of global economic crisis.
“I give you this charge because we are in serious times, times that require you to conduct business unusual, but honourably,” he said.
Mr. Montague was speaking recently at the opening of a two-day revenue workshop at the Runaway Bay Heart Hotel in St. Ann. The workshop, which was attended by key parish council decision-makers, examined the performance of local authorities over the last three years and identified measures needed to improve earnings.
The State Minister told the gathering that financial autonomy for councils and local authorities was one of the critical factors in the process of reforming local government. He said that true autonomy would only be realised when councils were able to maximise their own sources of revenue and contribute to the funding of their own budgets.
The Minister, who was in September 2007, given 24 months by Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, to effect reform of local governance in Jamaica, made it clear that the workshop was to be a forum for decision-making and was not just another “talk shop”. He outlined specific initiatives that Councils should consider in order to realise the overarching goal of good governance.
Councils were invited to discuss and commit to convening fortnightly sessions between the mayors and select senior managers, with a view to agreeing on and reviewing programmes, gauging successes, and planning alternative actions. They were also encouraged to monitor decisions from general council meetings and establish committees of chairpersons, who would meet monthly to look at strategic issues and ensure effective execution and action co-ordination.
Mr. Montague asked councils to think seriously about public education as a way to build awareness of the programmes and policies and urged mayors to be effective managers and not just ceremonial heads of their respective parish councils. He encouraged them to manage their councils like businesses, employing creative and innovative methods.
“Business unusual is taking charge of your social water and entombed water supplies and converting them into profit centres with your customers. You cannot afford to have social water being used to supply a car wash free of cost. Negotiate for payment,” he implored.
Reiterating a suggestion that customer relations officers be put in place in the councils, Mr. Montague said they would help to enhance the image of the councils, sensitise both internal and external customers about the reform process, and effect behavioural changes, which would lead to increased voluntary compliance among taxpayers and thereby improve revenue source.
The State Minister said community relations officers would also play an important role in helping to increase revenue by the contribution they could make in the sub-division, building and approvals processes.
“They will be useful in the provision of information to the public on the steps involved in those processes,” he added.