JIS News

When Prime Minister Bruce Golding took over the reins of the new Government on September 11 and named his Cabinet, he got rid of the Ministry of Local Government and placed it as a Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The major emphasis of the new unit is Local Government Reform, with Minister of State, Robert Montague in charge.
On September 18, Mr. Montague met with staff of the former Ministry, in order to introduce himself and quell rumours that staff would be separated from their jobs, with the movement of the local government portfolio to the Office of the Prime Minister.
With local government reform high on the administration’s agenda, Mr. Montague left the island for Uganda on September 26, where he attended a Commonwealth Local Government Forum resource panel meeting and a review of the Aberdeen Agenda on Local Government Reform.
The State Minister, who has responsibility for driving local government reform, informed that over the next 24 months, focus would be placed on implementing the Local Government Reform Programme, which would provide more autonomy, resources, and greater responsibility to local authorities islandwide.
He said that consultations on issues like the direct election of mayors and municipal status for large towns and cities like Montego Bay and May Pen, have not yet been concluded.
The reform process, he said, would outline the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and clearly define the boundaries between local and central government, to ensure that there is no overlap and that local government is entrenched in the Constitution.
He indicated that the reforms would also mean strengthening the capacities of local authorities, as well as the training and recruitment of adequate staff.
In the second half of September, much emphasis was placed on preparations for the National Hurricane Clean-up Project, which was announced by Prime Minister Golding on September 17, this after Hurricane Dean damaged the island extensively on August 19.
Mr. Golding designated the weekend of September 29 and 30 for Jamaicans to remove hurricane debris and restore the physical ambience of the island’s communities and towns as part of a hurricane recovery response. This was extended to include October 7. At a JIS ‘Think Tank’ on November 2, Mr. Montague said that the Government would be taking several steps to increase the number of legitimate owners of land on the property tax register.
This comes in the wake of a recent announcement that parish councils are to receive all property taxes as of January 1, 2008.
Mr. Montague argued that having more identifiable land owners will result in an improved level of property tax compliance, thereby making it unnecessary to increase the rate of the tax. The move is also expected to make it possible for the parish councils to better manage their increased responsibilities, which will include solid waste management and paying for street lighting, when local government reforms take effect. Local government authorities will be mandated to operate an open budget system, which will allow citizens at the community level to scrutinize the accounts of local authorities under the new local government reform programme.
Mr. Montague said that most of the reforms being undertaken by the new government, would become evident starting January 2008. Turning to the fire service, the State Minister said the Government was committed to providing the service with a permanent training school. “We have started by releasing $1 million from the Equalisation Fund for them to clean up the (designated) site and do an evaluation, because we are determined that after the training of this current batch of fire fighters, the next batch out are to be trained at the facility designated as the fire fighting school,” he said.
Speaking at the launch of Local Government Month at the beginning of November, Mr. Montague said the school is to be located at Twickenham Park in St. Catherine. For the annual clean-up exercise for Christmas, a sum of $100,000 has been allocated to each Councillor.
Mr. Montague said the money was in addition to funds allocated to the parish councils. “It is a small amount of money but it is a whole heap of councillors, and therefore they have their own funds at the various councils that will top it up,” he pointed out.
In the meantime, the State Minister said that effective January, parish councils would be responsible for the payment of street lights, public water, and solid waste collection under the Local Government Reform programme.
He said that this new arrangement would promote the efficient delivery of service to Jamaicans. Meanwhile, newly installed Executive Director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), Joan Gordon-Webley, has said that the NSWMA has embarked on several projects to streamline the agency’s garbage collection system to bring about much needed improvement in those services.
“We will have tendered for garbage collection in a lot of areas by next March and we will be dealing with collection in a different way,” she told JIS News in an interview on December 11.
The agency, which falls under the Local Government Unit, plans to establish garbage transfer stations to help reduce the garbage backlog, Mrs. Gordon-Webley said.
The transfer stations will be trailer-hauled containers, which will be placed strategically in communities. Compacted garbage will be stored in the containers which, when full, will be hauled to the dump sites. “This will give trucks faster turnaround time and allow operators to get a better deal doing more collections each day,” she added.
In the meantime, Mrs. Gordon-Webley indicated that a committee has been established to look at the agency’s fleet of trucks, and a report has been prepared.