In Pursuit of Good Local Governance: Guest Blog Post by Wayne Campbell


Local Government elections will take place in Jamaica on Monday, November 28. And by the way, the first of two televised debates will take place this evening. Last week, I attended two excellent workshops for media conducted by the Electoral Office of Jamaica, in which I learned a great deal of background on our electoral system and procedures (quite a bit has changed since new local government legislation came into effect on March 1). The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) reports that a total of 489 candidates were nominated to contest the Local Government Elections, including 487 candidates vying for seats in the 228 Electoral Divisions island-wide and two candidates for the seat of Mayor in the Municipal Election in Portmore – where the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Leon Thomas and the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Keith Blake were nominated to contest the mayoral election. Thirty-one (31) other candidates were nominated to contest the elections in 24 Divisions as independent candidates and representatives of the Marcus Garvey People’s Political Party (MGPPP) and the National Democratic Movement (NDM). We should also note that the May 2016 voters’ list was published on Tuesday, May 31 with a total of 1,849,012 registered electors. A total of 26, 259 new names have been added to the list while 1, 657 names were removed – representing a net increase of 24, 600 over the 1,824,410 names on the previous list published on November 30, 2015.

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Yet, despite the constant striving for higher standards and the enormous improvements over the years in our electoral system, one senses that there is still a far way to go to make local government relevant. Here is my fellow blogger Wayne Campbell’s take on the problems facing local governance and the importance of citizens “owning” their neighborhoods and making them happier, safer places to live and bring up one’s family. I think Wayne is talking more about urban societies (and the gross dereliction of urban planning in Jamaica), but there is much work to be done in neglected rural areas, too, especially in terms of services provided by local government. 

Wayne is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. You can reach him at waykam@yahoo.com and @WayneCamo  Do subscribe to his very interesting blog at http://wayaine.blogspot.com

In Pursuit of Good Local Governance

The Jamaican electorate has never taken local government very seriously. However, despite this fact, the country will go to the polls on Monday, November 28 to vote for parish and municipal councils.

Sadly, many of us do not know our local representatives since to a large extent they have not made themselves available to the people. Additionally, it appears that many of our local representatives are unaware of their job functions. Furthermore, many of the parish councils lack accountability and transparency, and this has eroded the confidence of the electorate. Issues such as unclean drains and the transformation of many residential communities due to commercialization are leading to the erosion of numerous communities as well as the quality of life we enjoy. There are also the issues of sidewalk garages and timely collection of garbage, etc. Disturbingly, the Riverton City landfill still needs to be addressed.

Our local government officials appear impotent in their attempt to address these issues as well as other critical issues necessary to improve people’s lives. As a result this has led to many questioning the relevance of local government in today’s society. The Jamaican society like all societies has layers of stratification. The society is divided along social classes and sadly, we have turned a blind eye to those of influence and wealth who are responsible for transforming the peaceful nature of numerous neighbourhoods into areas of distress.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs looks like this - a template for a good quality of life.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs looks like this – a triangular template for a good quality of life.

We all seek peace and happiness as human beings. In fact Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs speaks to Self- Transcendence. According to Maslow self-transcendence means life-altering peak experiences, such as love, understanding and happiness, which are at the pinnacle of the human experience and of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Undoubtedly, there should be a sense of happiness in one’s home and by extension in one’s community. However, this happiness which we all seek needs the protection of the State by way of legislation and then by enforcement. This is especially true for the economically disadvantaged and most vulnerable in the society.

The issue of town planning and development has always been skirted around by successive governments, since there is a political price to pay in addressing the ad hoc approach to development which we have embraced over the years. Unfortunately, we have nurtured a culture of political interference in all aspects of our lives, which has undermined to a great extent law and order –  especially in the area of town planning and specifically, with regard to our zoning laws. However, all is not lost and we now need to move towards a culture of engendering a platform of social development in which the people are at the centre of development.

Any society which places a high premium on social development will reap the benefits of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), especially Goal 11 –  which speaks to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In recent times there has been the proliferation of junk yards all over the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). This practice clearly needs urgent attention from the authorities, such as the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), as well as the local government ministry. There seems to be classism at play surrounding this practice, as the operators of such businesses cannot conduct such trade in the high-class communities in which they live. Social development is integral in building safer and inclusive communities.

Illegal, unregulated backyard businesses - junkyards, garages, etc. - can prove extremely hazardous. An explosion at an illegal gas container plant in the residential area of Jacques Road, Kingston killed and injured several people recently. (Photo: Gleaner)
Illegal, unregulated backyard businesses – junkyards, garages, etc. – can prove extremely hazardous. An explosion at an illegal gas container plant in the residential area of Jacques Road, Kingston killed and injured several people recently. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

We need to realize that citizens should be allowed contribute in shaping policy for a better society. We cannot overemphasize the positive spin offs there would be for the advancement toward an inclusive society. “Inclusive” would imply that individuals treat each other in a fair and just manner whether in the family, workplace or in any other setting where people operate. We need to cultivate a culture of social cohesiveness in which the voices and concerns of the most vulnerable are listened to and are just as important as those who are of influence and affluence. Appallingly, a significant number of our communities are no longer safe due to urban decay, crime and violence as well as myopic planning policies, which have served to scare away many middle class families from our shores.

The question of whether or not Jamaica still has a middle class is pretty much debatable. There needs to be a sense of urgency in finding ways of engendering opportunities in making our cities and communities safe again. We have seen the negatives of policies which are implemented only to serve a specific sector of the society. The time is right for a paradigm shift to embrace social responsibility and accountability. Such a collective embrace will enable us as a people to look out for each other. We need to rekindle our passion for civic activism in order to facilitate greater citizen participation and involvement in public policies, decisions and discourse. We need to move towards creating a just and fair society, where citizens can be valued regardless of their gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, age or disability. The reform of local government has been ongoing for many years now; we should be reaping the benefits of this transformation now in order to realize Jamaica’s 2030 vision of making the country “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.”

In the words of Ferdinand Mount, “a majority in all parties do, I think, want to see local government recover its old vigor and independence.”

#localgovernment #urbanization #townplanning #sustainabledevelopmentgoals #citizenparticipation #civicactivism #accountability #transparency #lawenforcement

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

waykam@yahoo.com

@WayneCamo

Here is a 2014 photo of raw sewage, running across the front gate of this completed Operation PRIDE house in Riverton Meadows. Has local government failed the citizens? Do citizens need to take matters in hand?
Here is a 2014 photo of raw sewage, running across the front gate of this completed Operation PRIDE house in Riverton Meadows. Has local government failed the citizens? Do citizens need to work together to strengthen communities?

 


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