Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | January 23, 2013
Home : Commentary
Launch war against parish councils
Fabian McGowan (left), People's National Party candidate for the Springfield division, looks intently on his nomination papers while Angela Brown Burke assists him in the inspection. Local government has been a waste of time, argues Joan Williams. - FILE
Joan Williams, Guest Columnist

Though many small parties have sprung up over the years only to fade away after the election, the call for credible political alternatives is more intense today than ever before. But is it realistic to think that a third party can break the stranglehold that the traditional parties have on us? I hardly think so.

The first problem is that we do not have proportional representation, but instead the less democratic winner-take-all system which consistently results in parties getting just over half of the popular vote, but ending up with two-thirds of the representatives in Parliament. So where would that leave a third party that can muster even 10 per cent of the popular vote? You are perfectly correct: nowhere.

I think the greatest obstacle to any third party having an impact in Jamaica is the corruption of the local government system, which is a millstone around the necks of taxpayers but from which we reap negligible benefits.

The fact is, the only entities that benefit from the existence of the 227 parish councillors being supported by the public purse are the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP). This is because these councillors who are being paid from the public purse are mostly nothing but permanent political fixtures and activists for the two parties, year in, year out.

On the other hand, they serve very little purpose to the taxpayers, as the permanent chant is that they have no money to carry out basic functions. Anyway, most of their traditional functions have long ago been subsumed by central government or taken over by the Constituency Development Fund.

A few years ago, I wrote a critique of this same redundant local government system, and a consultant to the ministry replied that councils were critical to the running of the country, especially since their main function is town planning. What a joke! Can someone point me to a well-planned town in Jamaica today?

At one time, one could point to Mandeville, but even that town is now nothing but a series of 'chaka-chaka', unplanned and monstrous buildings. Further, Jamaica's residential communities and the roads therein, especially in Jamaica's capital, are being devastated daily by illegal commercialisation with the apparent tacit approval of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC).

TOO MANY GOVERNMENTS

Anyway, Jamaica is just too small and poor to be having 15 different governments, (12 parish councils, the Portmore Municipal Council, KSAC, and Central Government.) Fact is, we are being smothered financially and practically by super-heavy and counterproductive bureaucracy.

It was quite a long time ago that a debate on the relevance of the local government structure was bubbling, and guess what? A commission of sorts was set up to look into it. What did it come up with? The concept of county councils, one for Cornwall, one for Middlesex, and one for Surrey.

That was a very sensible recommendation, but the idea was immediately buried by the politically powerful JLP and PNP, as it would have put an end to their having hordes of persons on the ground profiling as representatives of the people when they are nothing but party activists being paid by the overburdened taxpayer.

So now we come back to my main theme: How can a third party ever make an impact with the type of machinery the traditional parties have, which is being financed from the public purse?

It seems that before we see the next plethora of small parties emerging in time to fight the 2016 election, those so minded should 'tek sleep mark death' and start from now to lead a campaign to mobilise the hapless and exploited taxpayers in this country to rise up and demand an end to the useless local government system, replacing it with three county councils made up of no more than a total of 20 representatives with well-defined duties. The heads of these councils should be independently elected by voters, too.

Of course, it is well known that each new generation likes to reinvent the wheel, so I am only throwing out this suggestion to those of the younger generation of potential politicians or change agents who are not blinded by romanticism.

Joan Williams is a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gratestj@gmail.com.

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