“There’s much more we can be doing in Parliament, we could be giving more power back to people at local government level, through local referendums”.- Theresa May The Jamaican electorate has never taken local government very seriously. However, despite this fact, the country will go to the polls on Monday, November 28 to vote for parish and municipal councils. Sadly, many of us do not know our local representatives since to a large extent they have not made themselves available to the people. Additionally, it appears that many of our local representatives are unaware of their job functions. Furthermore, many of the parish councils lack accountability and transparency and this has erode the confidence of the electorate. Issues such as unclean drains, the transformation of many residential communities due to commercialization are leading to the erosion of many communities as well as to the quality of live we enjoy. There is also the issues of side walk garages and timely collection of garbage. Disturbingly, the Riverton City landfill still needs to be addressed. Our local government officials appear impotent in their attempt to address these issues as well as other critical issues necessary to improve people’s lives. As a result this has led to many questioning the relevance of local government in today’s society. The Jamaican society like all societies has layers of stratification. The society is divided along social classes’ and sadly, we have turned a blind eye to those of influence and wealth who are responsible for transforming the peaceful nature of numerous neighbourhoods into areas of distress. We all seek peace and happiness as human beings. In fact Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs speaks to Self- Transcendence. According to Maslow self-transcendence are life-altering peak experiences, such as love, understanding and happiness which are at the pinnacle of the human experience and of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Undoubtedly, there should be a sense of happiness in one’s home and by extension in one’s community. However, this happiness which we all seek needs the protection of the State by way of legislation and then by enforcement. This is especially true for the economically disadvantaged and most vulnerable in the society. The issue of town planning and development has always been skirted around by successive government since there is a political price to pay in addressing the ad hoc approach to development which have we have embraced over the years. Unfortunately, we have nurtured a culture of political interference in all aspects of our lives which has undermine to a great extent law and order especially in the area of town planning, specifically, with regard to our zoning laws. However, all is not lost and we now need to move towards a culture of engendering a platform of social development in which the people are at the centre of development. Any society which places a high premium on social development will reap the benefits of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), especially goal number 11 which speaks to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In recent times there has been the proliferation of junk yards all over the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). This practice clearly needs the urgent attention from the authorities, such as, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) as well as the local government ministry. There seems to be classism at play surrounding this practice as the operators of such businesses cannot conduct such trade in their high-class communities in which they live. Social development is integral in building safer and inclusive communities. We need to realize that citizens and t in society should be allowed contribute in shaping policy for a better society. We cannot overemphasize that positive spins off for the advancement toward an inclusive society, this implies that individuals treat each other in a fair and just manner whether in the family, workplace or in any other setting where people operate. We need to cultivate a culture of social cohesiveness in which the voices and concerns of the most vulnerable are listened to and are just as important as those who are of influence and affluence. Appallingly, a significant number of our communities are no longer safe due to urban decay, crime and violence as well as myopic planning policies which have served to scare away many middle class families from our shores. The question of whether or not Jamaica still has a middle class is pretty much debatable. There needs to be a sense of urgency in finding ways of engendering opportunities in making our cities and communities safe again. We have seen the negatives of policies which are implemented only to serve a specific sector of the society. The time is right for a paradigm shift to embrace social responsibility and accountability. Such a collective embrace will enables us as a people to look out for each other. We need to rekindle our passion for civic activism in order to facilitate greater citizen participation and involvement in public policies, decisions and discourse. We need to move towards creating a just and fair society where regardless of gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, age and or disability. The reform of local government has been an ongoing for many years now; we should be reaping the benefits of this transformation now in order to realize Jamaica’s 2030 vision of making the country the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. In the words of Ferdinand Mount, “a majority in all parties do, I think, want to see local government recover its old vigor and independence”.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.