Minister with responsibility for Local Government in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon Robert Montague urged local government officials to refocus on their individual roles as well as on building strong working relationships with other government agencies in strengthening the relevance of their respective councils and municipalities.
The Minister was addressing more than 200, local government personnel during a one-day consultation/workshop at the Jamaica Conference Centre last week Thursday, May 26, 2011.
The workshop which was heavily attended by Mayors, Councillors, Secretary/Managers, Directors of Administration and Disaster Coordinators, was aimed at reviewing the roles, responsibilities and relationships of local government officials as part of a relationship management strategy geared at enhancing the inter-relationships within councils as well as intra-governmental partners.
During his wide-ranging speech which looked a number of local government reform issues, the Minister pointed out that while the topic was by no means new, he, however, felt the necessity for this review “as we continue to assess our objectives towards achieving good local governance”.
In addition to increasing the awareness of agencies and ministries regarding the coordinating responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) Minister Montague said that the workshop provided a useful platform for face-to-face dialogue and consultation as one local government fraternity. He said it was his hope that it would provide renewed enthusiasm and focus in improving service delivery which will augment the quality representation to the citizens in their respective jurisdictions across Jamaica.
The Minister also used the opportunity to provide an update on the local government reform process.
It was revealed that the legal review was progressing as submissions have been made with respect of several pieces of legislation; an organizational review of the parish councils was well under way; a most modern and appropriate government accounting system has been installed in several Local Authorities; Local Public Accounts Committees have been established in thirteen (13) LAs aimed at opening increasing public participation in the budget process; four (4) LAs are currently receiving direct financing from the Ministry of Finance instead of from the Department of Local government, thus allowing for increased autonomy over their own finances; while Parish Development Committees have been established and are being funded and institutionalized through a National Association of Parish Development Committees to deepen community participation as part of the citizens’ participatory model of governance.
Regarding Revenue Enhancement, Minister Montague reported that LAs have responded positively to the challenge of providing 30% of their budget from own source funds. He noted that the average contribution by Local Authorities is over 12% with some councils providing 27% of their own budget.
“We now need to take the next step by becoming proactive facilitators for economic development within our respective jurisdictions” the Minister said.
The second segment of the two-part workshop also addressed the role of LAs with respect to disaster preparedness and management, particularly in light of the upcoming hurricane season. He cited the need for the strengthening of enforcement and monitoring of regulations adding that unplanned settlements are major contributing factors in the degree of severity in damage resulting from natural disasters.
A major decision emanating from the cross-functional workshop was the need for both political directorates at central and sub-national levels to meet and discuss a joint approach to moving forward.