In my last article I discussed the intentions of the Government for local government in the document "Policy on Local Government Transformation and Modernisation". I gave my views that: "Careful reading (of the document) will indicate that the majority of proposed transformation processes are concerned with management issues and not devolution of authority" and that, "If we are to have significant participatory democracy this must start at the community level and yet there is no discussion (in the document) on the role of village councils". I discussed this issue in an article in the Express in August 2012 (entitled "The demise of local government) under discussion of the proposal to allocate $10 million to members of Parliament for projects in their constituencies which I considered would add to the demise of local government.
I shall now give my proposals for how I believe local government should be structured. Reform of local government could be a strong influence in moving away from ethnic divisions in politics since all groups in the society are interested in their immediate environment and in having efficiency in the services that local government can provide. This goes much beyond garbage collection and keeping the drains clean. Recreational facilities-parks, playing fields and so on are areas of local government responsibility. Local planning and approval of local developments that impact directly on the lives of citizens need to be under local control. This is the true meaning of people's participation in governance. Preservation of local heritage sites, community tourism, preservation of the natural environment, first call for social services can all be a part of local government activities and are more likely to be non-partisan than if they are carried out by central government. There is currently an appalling situation with the maintenance and repairs of schools (in spite of the existence of a "special purpose" company). School buildings should be the responsibility of local government.
Participation cannot be achieved by consultations in which the few citizens who attend are told what the central government and the municipal corporations intend to do. People participation in governance must start at the community level. The nearest institution we now have at community level is in rural areas where there are village councils (which are Non-Governmental Organisations-NGOs). There are no comparable institutions in urban areas. We must conceive the basic building block of local government as a group of citizens in a community forming a "Community Council". In rural areas these will replace village councils and become a part of the formal system of governance with a formal relationship (by legislation) to the municipal corporations.
There is already recognised a community unit in the form of the enumeration district (ED) which is used for census taking. The ED is a geographically defined area consisting of approximately 150 to 200 households. The ED is subdivided when the households exceed 200/ 225. With respect to community councils the number of households would need to be discussed but these should be based on the Enumeration District. A community council should not be less than an enumeration district but could consist of more than one such district once the boundaries are taken from the boundaries of the EDs. Thus the EDs can be aggregated to form communities which would be aggregated to form municipalities. This will give consistency and permanency to designation of the community council boundaries.
I must acknowledge that the idea of using enumeration districts came from a colleague who once served as chairman of a municipality.
Reporting by the minister on the activities of the Ministry of Local Government indicate to me that the minister has more concern with the ministry than with the municipalities. For example the minister has reported that a number of projects will be started earlier this year as a result of his efforts. But this is a matter between the municipality and the Ministry of Finance. If the Ministry of Finance is not doing its job (releasing funds on time) then this should be corrected (by the intervention of the Prime Minister, if necessary). In fact local government can only be effective in its autonomy when the Ministry of Local Government is abolished.
Similarly with the relationship between the municipalities and other ministries there should be no need for the intervention the Ministry of Local Government. Thus many of the management issues outlined in Chapter 5 of the Local Government policy document should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Administration since this exercise is being undertaken by that ministry for the Public Service. The following is taken from the Ministry of Public Administration website: "The New System Facilitators (NSFs) are a dedicated cadre of change agents responsible for assisting in the design, delivery and implementation of the change management activities and initiatives of their respective ministry or department".
Municipality should be added to ministry or department in the NFS statement so that the Ministry of Local Government does not duplicate the work of the Ministry of Public Administration. The planning activities of the municipalities should relate to the national plan (without the intervention of a Ministry of Local Government that would complicate matters and create inefficiency) which is under the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development.
I have come to the conclusion that the "Policy on Local Government Transformation and Modernisation" document demonstrates a lack of understanding of "people participation" in governance and of devolution of authority from central to local government. In this regard the philosophy is much the same as the position of Patrick Manning. It is ironic that the differences in the People's National Movement at that time are seemingly surfacing under the People's Partnership. Has this document been approved by Cabinet-perhaps in the fashion of Section 34? Did the members of the Congress of the People in Cabinet agree to it? If they did, what a long way they have come from their 2007 manifesto and stated philosophy on people's participation and local government transformation!
• John Spence is professor
emeritus, UWI. He also served
as an independent senator.