Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | December 11, 2012
Home : Commentary
EDITORIAL - Set up regional councils, instead
In the event you didn't work out what it was, that booming sound at the weekend was the chest-thumping, captured by this newspaper, of the five parish council chairmen in the county of Cornwall.

They - Garth Wilkinson, Trelawny; Glendon Harris, St James; Shernet Haughton, Hanover; Everton Fisher, St Elizabeth; and Bertel Moore, Westmoreland - were all proclaiming to have done well in the eight months since the People's National Party swept all the 14 parish councils in municipal elections.

"We have achieved quite a lot, and we are quite pleased with the work being done," said Mr Moore, of the performance of his council, but summing up the sentiment of his colleagues in other parishes.

Our own view, which we believe is shared by the majority of Jamaicans, is that even granting the specific achievements over which the mayors huffed, they could only have arrived at Mr Moore's conclusion by setting the bar extremely low.

Indeed, this newspaper can determine no conceptual frameworks, if there are any; the work plans for the achievement of their goals; and/or how their projects are to be financed.

Two local government authorities, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) and the St James Parish Council, appear to have websites, and they are useful in so far that they exist and the fact that it is possible to download PDF files of their building permits. And if you want to know the value of a handful of assets of the St James Parish Council a decade ago, it's there.

The St James Parish Council's site does have a heading for budgets and for minutes of meetings, but apparently hasn't got around to updating these. It, however, gets marks for entertaining the idea.

A few months ago, the majority of the councillors of the KSAC spent a big weekend at a posh north coast hotel where, we suppose, these kinds of issues were discussed, assuming margaritas didn't get in the way. Report, and action, though, are somewhat behind.

LOCAL GOV'T REFORM A WASTE OF TIME

Which brings us to our fundamental issue: the viability and usefulness of the local government authorities as they, and the wider system of local government, are currently structured. In that regard, it is a firm view that two decades of so-called local government reform has largely been a monumental waste of time. It has largely been about inconsequential nibbling at the margins.

Our position, therefore, is to either dump the parish councils and flatten out the system of government, or radically overhaul them into viable institutions capable of delivering services to their constituents. We propose a revisiting of the plan Arnold Bertram, then minister of local government, placed on the table a decade ago: collapsing the existing councils into larger regional bodies, which, hopefully, will create economies of scale and a greater concentration of management talent.

For instance, the councils of the five aforementioned, low-bar, chest-beaters of Cornwall would be bundled into a single larger council, giving it greater financial viability and the ability to recruit skilled employees, whose pay would be linked to performance. The KSAC and the St Thomas and St Catherine parish councils might be made into one, with the other six pulled into suitable configurations. The bottom line is that parish councils, as now structured, offer little.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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