State Minister with Responsibility for Local Government in the Office of the Prime Minister, Robert Montague, has said that Jamaica will benefit significantly from its participation in the Fifth Commonwealth Local Government Conference, held in the Bahamas last week.
Speaking at a press conference at the Department of Local Government on Hagley Park Road in Kingston on Thursday, May 21, 2009 Mr. Montague said that Jamaica stands to benefit from in excess of $1 billion in assistance, among other support for the local government process, arising out of discussions with international agencies.
“We signed off for a Caribbean governance project with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a programme for $1.3 billion or C$20 million. We are (also) being summoned to a meeting in Washington with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on June 8 to discuss a programme we submitted for some US$5 million in grant funding to be accessed by the local authorities,” he said.
“Additionally, our discussions with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is yielding some US$200,000 for the development of our parish development committees, and Mandeville is being singled out as the pilot in this programme,” he informed.
Mr. Montague further disclosed that technology giant, Microsoft, has agreed to donate software capable of tracking abductions, which will assist the police in these incidents, and cases of human trafficking, particularly involving children. He added that Microsoft will fund training of the police in the use of the software.
“Microsoft is also coming to do an assessment of Jamaica’s digital needs. We have asked them to look at and introduce some programmes that they have in Colombia, Chile, and Portugal, their student incentives programmes, where they begin to train students from an early age in software writing… (and) in the utilisation of the internet as a study tool. We would like to have our students participate in that,” he informed.
The State Minister pointed out that since returning from the Bahamas, he has received correspondence from persons, who have expressed an interest in establishing internet access points in Montego Bay, Trelawny, and Port Maria, to facilitate usage by citizens and residents in these communities, free of cost.
Councillors and administrators, Mr. Montague also informed, were also exposed to best practices across the Commonwealth, which included a good practice scheme funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). He explained that under this facility, Councils, which sign on, are guaranteed £50,000 to undertake a joint programme with an authority, which has demonstrated a particular best practice.
“Four Councils are on board in that scheme – Portmore, St. Mary, Clarendon, and the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) – and the Association of Local Government Authorities (ALGA). The opportunities are there for more local authorities to sign on under this good practice scheme,” he indicated.
Mr. Montague said members of the delegation also participated in a number of the 32 seminars, workshops, and plenary sessions covering areas such as opportunities in the global financial crisis; localising the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); disaster management; and heritage tourism.
He disclosed that prior to the councillors departing the island, he met with and mandated them to initiate, within their parishes, two initiatives that they would be exposed to at the conference. He said that arising out of this directive the Clarendon Parish Council will be pursuing the possibility of elevating pedestrian crossings situated within close proximity to schools.
“The pedestrian crossings (would be) elevated 10 inches to about a foot off the road surface, (and) drivers (would) have no choice but to slow down to go over a ramp that the pedestrian crossing sits on. The police have told us that a lot of children are either incapacitated or die crossing our streets. May Pen is moving post-haste to implement that system,” he outlined.
Mr. Montague added that he expects to receive submissions from the remaining Councils on the initiatives they will be pursuing, and how they intend to implement these measures.