Learner’s Submission: Strengthening the System Of Decentralised Governance in Jamaica

“In Ministry Paper No. 8 of 1993, “Reform of Local Government”, the policy of the Government of Jamaica in respect of decentralisation is clearly stated: “Government’s policy on Local Government is based on the conviction that … a strong and vibrant system of Local Government is essential to the attainment of a society in which all citizens enjoy real opportunities to fully and directly participate in and contribute to the management and development of their local communities, and by extension, of the nation (p. 2)  This position is reiterated in the National Development Plan, Vision 2030 (Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2009): “The Plan presents a framework for the achievement of social transformation through a new paradigm of local governance which will give communities greater scope for their self-management and enable them to actively participate in policy decisions at the national level” (p. xxviii).  It is evident from these documents that, across Administrations, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) acknowledges the importance of an efficient system of decentralised governance.”

It is noted in the aforementioned Ministry Paper, tabled in Parliament in 1993 with a view to effecting reform of a colonial local government system with roots in nineteenth century legislation (the Counties and Parishes Act, 1867 and the Parochial Boards Act, 1887), that “the major contributors to the deficiencies and poor performance of Local Government have been inadequate financing and lack of autonomy” (p. 1).  In light of these challenges, as well as the general deficiencies and poor performance cited here, the Ministry Paper identifies the following as objectives of the reform process:

“1. Restoration of functions and responsibilities which were removed from Local Government, and rehabilitation of the Councils

  1. Establishment of new arrangements for the financing of Local Government which will allocate to them adequate and independent sources of revenue, and will give Local Authorities effective control over these sources of revenue
  2. To upgrade the institutional capability of Local Authorities to ensure that they are able to perform their functions in an efficient and cost-effective manner …
  3. To effect a comprehensive revision of all out-dated legislation which presently constitute a major constraint to the effective performance of the Councils
  4. To upgrade the quality and cost-efficiency of all Local Government services and regulatory functions
  5. To shift the focus of Local Authorities to one of providing leadership and a coordinating framework to the collective efforts of the people of their respective Parishes, towards local development
  6. To examine the present distribution of service responsibilities between Central and Local Government, community organizations, NGOs and the private sector, and to identify better or more cost-effective arrangements for the delivery of these services.” (p. 3)

The National Advisory Council on Local Government (2009) reports that within five years of the introduction of Ministry Paper No. 8 of 1993, significant progress was made in the areas highlighted below:

  • Implementation of policies to reverse Local Authorities excessive financial dependence on Central Government, including establishment of the Parochial Revenue Fund (PRF); designating selected major tax types (Property Tax & 66 2/3% of Motor Vehicle Licence Fees) as dedicated sources of funding for Local Authorities; and adoption of a raft of measures/initiatives intended to assist and facilitate Local Authorities to significantly boost their own source revenues and use of their assets.
  • Amendments of more than 12 Laws and numerous Regulations, to make Local Authorities more effective in discharging their mandated responsibilities and give them greater autonomy to set/adjust licence fees and user charges, and amend By-laws and Regulations.
  • Significantly enhancing the institutional capacity of the Local Authorities in several dimensions, such as creating a new organizational structure with many new senior managerial/technical positions, and introduction of modern technology and business processes in Local Authorities.
  • Creating new mechanisms/processes (e.g. the National Advisory Council, Parish Advisory Committees, etc.) to facilitate greater civil society participation in local governance and local sustainable development issues, and to enhance accountability, openness and transparency by Local Authorities in the conduct of local affairs.
  • The conceptualization and formulation, and in some instances the actual approval and/or implementation, of several externally funded projects that supported various aspects of the Local Governance Reform Programme, such as the Parish Infrastructure Development Project, the UNPD sponsored Preparatory Assistance Project and the CIDA sponsored Supporting Local Government Reform Project” (p. 20)

A major element of the local government reform process is the entrenchment of local government in the Constitution (http://www.localgovjamaica.gov.jm/lgra.aspx?id=301).  The Bill shortly entitled, “The Constitution (Amendment) (Local Government) Act, 2014”, which has been laid on the Table of the House of Representatives, seeks to “amend the Constitution of Jamaica to make provision for the inclusion of a democratic system of local government for Jamaica” (preamble).  With its passage, the nation will have attained another milestone along the path to establishing an enduring decentralised governance structure that will facilitate citizens’ participation in governance and decision-making.” – Tracy Cohen – Kingston, Jamaica

Sources

Ministry Paper No. 8 of 1993, “Reform of Local Government”. Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, 1993). Retrieved from http://www.localgovjamaica.gov.jm/ministrypapers.aspx

“Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan” (Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2009).  Retrieved from www.jis.gov.jm

Final Report of the National Advisory Council on Local Government (Department of Local Government – Office of the Prime Minister, 2009). Retrieved from www.localgovjamaica.gov.jm

The Bill shortly entitled, “The Constitution (Amendment) (Local Government) Act, 2014”. Retrieved from www.japarliament.gov.jm

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