Value of Local Representation

As Jamaicans prepare to go to the polls to cast their votes for divisional representatives at the local government level on November 28, it becomes increasingly pertinent for them to be aware of the roles and value of this type of representation and governance.

Local government authorities are entities at the local level through which the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development carries out its functions within communities.

These entities are the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the Portmore Municipal Council and the 12 parish councils.

In addition to the administrative branch of local authorities, the political arm is made up of councillors, headed by the mayor who chairs the council, which is responsible for determining policies.

The responsibilities of the councils include developing, managing and maintaining infrastructure and public facilities, such as parochial roads, water supplies, drains and gullies, parks, recreational centres, markets, abattoirs, pounds, cemeteries, transportation centres, public sanitary conveniences and public beaches.

The local authorities also provide services, such as poor relief, public cleansing, public health and street lighting.

Along with a range of other services that support national policies and programmes, they also manage regulation powers in respect to building and planning approvals and development control, licensing of trades and businesses, street parking and control of public vending.

Director of Corporate Communications in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, Oliver Fagan, speaking with JIS News, says elected councillors are responsible for managing the range of roles under the purview of the local authority.

“The councillor has responsibility to monitor, to see that things such as the garbage are collected; and to make representation if it isn’t; or if there is need for a minor water-supply system in his or her division, the councillor would be responsible for making representation in that regard,” he notes.

Mr. Fagan says the councillor may also, with the support of the council, and working alongside state agencies and members of Parliament, pursue specific initiatives and projects for the development of the division.

He further notes that there are clearly defined codes for the reporting relationship between the councillor and the local government minister, as set out in the Local Governance Act and the Local Government Financing and Financial Management Act.

“Under both Acts, the local authorities have responsibilities to the constituents in the divisions that each councillor is supposed to serve. That is, reporting to them things that are to be done in an upcoming year (and) all their (upcoming) projects and plans,” he says, adding that reports are to be made to constituents once per year.

Jamaica’s formal system of local government began in the early 1660s with the introduction of the Vestry System, which had responsibility for maintaining public order and collecting taxes for the maintenance of churches, the poor and destitute and roadways and bridges. This was abolished in 1866 and replaced by the Municipal Board, which had members nominated by the governor.

By 1886, the municipal boards were abolished and the parochial boards (later re-named parish councils) established. The parochial boards consisted of persons who were elected from electoral districts in the Legislative Council, which included the custos and elected taxpayers.

Today, individuals vying for the position of councillor are selected by political parties or run as independents in the 228 divisions. Divisions are determined, drawn up and managed by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

A total of 489 candidates have been nominated across the divisions islandwide to contest the upcoming Local Government Elections, which are usually considered closest to the people, as they can select representatives at the community level, usually from amongst persons who reside in the same locale.

Public Education Officer at the ECJ, Dahlia Harper, is urging individuals to participate in the process.

“A parish council candidate, when elected, will act as the eyes, ears and voice of community members,” she tells JIS News.

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