Jamaica Local Government Suffering From Low Turnout

This newspaper would not be surprised if voter turnout for today’s local government elections is a record low.

Anecdotal evidence suggests very little enthusiasm for the poll; nor do many Jamaicans even see the need.

In such circumstances, the two major political parties should be wary of reading too much into victory or defeat.

As we have indicated previously in this space, ruling parties are usually favoured when a local government election is called within months of parliamentary triumph. Of course, there have been exceptions.

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The ruling Jamaica Labour Party which we dare not forget won the February 2016 General Election by just one seat will be anxious for a substantial majority of parish councils in order to further legitimise and consolidate its position.

The Opposition People’s National Party hamstrung by a lack of money in what has been a very low-keyed campaign  is virtually marking time, waiting for the inevitable renewal process at leadership level to surge into motion.

That said, if, as we suspect will happen, voter turnout is very low, the ongoing discussion regarding the relevance or otherwise of local government will only intensify.

Mayor of Kingston Dr Angela Brown Burke, like many others on both sides of the political fence, argue that the local elected authorities are relevant and have an important role to play in modern Jamaica going forward.

However, it seems to this newspaper that instead of an over-indulgence in airy-fairy talk about local government reform and such, there needs to be a proper hearing from the public about their experiences in dealing with local authorities.

This newspaper contends that poor customer service has much to do with the very negative perception of municipal and parish councils. Vendors in markets all across Jamaica, people seeking amusement licences, and people seeking building permits are among those with very negative stories portraying inefficiency, inconsistent and uncaring attitudes, and corrupt practices among officials and staff at the local authority level.

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With time, perceptions  fed by personal and second-hand reports of bad experiences  have hardened and concretised into cynicism. For many Jamaicans, elected local authorities are seen as no more than training grounds for low-level politicians; and feeding troughs for the latter, their supporters and opportunistic members of council staff.

Perhaps the audits championed by Local Government Minister Desmond
McKenzie and the various anti-corruption probes conducted earlier this
year, which led to at least two arrests, will help. But after today, as a
matter of the greatest urgency, local authorities will have to become
far more efficient, professional, transparent and customer-friendly.
Otherwise, already depressingly low credibility in the public space will
simply fall through the floor. 


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