Op-Ed: Jamaica’s Local Election: The “Shine on the Ball” Illusion
By Kent Gammon
The Jamaican people have answered the call of the People’s National Party (PNP) that they should elect their local councillor candidates to, as Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller termed, “join up the power of government.”
The People’s National Party received — as in the recent general election — an overwhelming mandate from the Jamaican electorate in the local government election of March 2012.
The shine on the political ball for the PNP since the general election since Dec. 29, 2011 appears to have bedazzled the Jamaican electorate to vote for the PNP. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had held majority control of the parish councils since June 2003.
It is the further left socialist philosophy of the People’s National Party that has yet again prevailed over the centre-left socialist philosophy of the Jamaica Labour Party and leads to the arguable conclusion that the current Jamaican electorate prefers a nanny state government.
The “nanny state government” run by a populist leader, however, can only work well with an economy that is not poor. The anaemic state of the Jamaican economy cannot realize the demands of the Jamaican people in the government formula they have chosen….the result will be even more poverty.
The local government apparatus as it has operated these past 2 decades is obsolete and a grand waste of tax payers’ money. There are approximately 228 locally elected councillors at an annual salary of over $3 million USD. Local government elections are due every three years by law but the two main political parties have offered reasons, some more credible than others, to postpone the local government elections from being held at those consecutive three-year electoral periods.
There has been much discussion about local government reform, but the status quo since universal adult suffrage in 1944 remains.
Be careful what you wish for
The empirical evidence of a local government apparatus controlled by one political party while central government is controlled by another political party in the current dispensation is political gridlock. The local government apparatus is set up to meet the demands of the people on a community basis.
Almost all the resources of the state are in the hands of the central government, despite legislation that allocates resources to the local government councillors. If the central government in essence controls almost all the resources of the state and allocates to their councillors who support their political party, it follows that it would be difficult to persuade electors to vote for one party to control local government knowing that another party controls central government.
The de-resourcing of the local government apparatus makes an even more compelling case for a restructuring of it.
The case for re-structuring the local government apparatus
There is an urgent need to modernize the local government apparatus so as to make it more efficient and cost effective.
The small size of the island, being a mere 11,000 square kilometres, with 228 elected councillors is unwieldly and has not worked cost effectively.
The local government proposal to have three local government councils for the counties of Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey makes a lot more sense than the current system.
It is proposed that a local government council should consist of seven councillors per county with a mayor per county elected from amongst the councillors. There must be more resources allocated to the local government council and made untouchable.
To test the effectiveness of the proposed new dispensation sunshine legislation may be enacted to analyse the effectiveness with a view to keeping it or modifying it yet again.
Ultimately, however, the Jamaican electorate in the main exercise their franchise based on their perceptions of how state benefits flow to meet their individual demands, irrespective of the structure of government.
Kent Gammon is a former candidate for the Jamaica Labour Party and an Attorney-at-law.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.