Career & Education

Ricardo Mitchell is junior mayor of St Catherine

Sunday, December 10, 2017

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Ricardo Mitchell, representing the division of Treadways in St Catherine as junior councillor, was recently robed as junior mayor of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation.

The 19-year-old undergraduate, who is pursuing public management degree at The University West Indies, and who has ambitions of becoming a councillor and moving up the political ladder to becoming prime minister, came out ahead of 11 other contestants in a debating contest related to local government reform and other national issues.

He argued that local government reform is good for Jamaica.

“My main point is my policy that I think should be implemented. My three solid points are: having local government reform will bring government closer to the people, which will increase political participation, which is voting,” he told Career and Education.

Focusing a lot on the trend of low public participation in the election process, the youngster posited the notion that the solution is for local government to exercise greater autonomy.

“The motion has been tabled that 'Local Government reform is good for Jamaica'. It is imperative that I first define the key terms in this motion. Local government, as defined by Dr E Schobourgh, is “subnational level of government which has jurisdiction over a limited range of State functions, within a defined geographical area, which is part of a larger territory”.

“Reform as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is to make changes on (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it. Therefore, I stand resolute that the change in a subnational level of government which has jurisdiction over a limited range of State functions is good for the nation of Jamaica and its people,” he said, asserting the moot.

Having said that, he pointed out that the Government of Jamaica has, over the past 17 years, pursued a programme of local government reform aimed at fundamentally transforming the local government system in Jamaica. He also noted that there is a report of the joint select committee of Parliament which was established in 2003 to advise Parliament on the issues related to local government reform.

Then he gave three reasons he holds the view that reform is good for the country.

“It brings government closer to the people, and thus enables citizens to be better informed, and to better understand the operation of the public's business. This facilitates the forging of a strong relationship between the governors and the governed, and also identification of the people with their government, which helps to reduce alienation from the political process. This will then lead to a higher rate of political participation,” said Mitchell.

To support his argument, he gave as example the voter turnout in the 2016 general and local government elections. In the local government election only 47. 72 per cent of the nation that was eligible to vote did, which gave it the uneviable position of having the second lowest voter turnout since 1962.

“This, Mr Speaker, leads to the question: Why was there such a low voter turnout?...This, Mr Speaker, depicts that the electorate feels disconnected from the process of governance and the ability of its elected officials to meet their needs.

Therefore, if local authorities are given more autonomy it will rebuild the rate of political participation, which includes voting, as they would have direct responsibility for all public institutions and programmes within the municipality. This can be solved through the relationship that will build between citizens and their local officials who will be present with them to hear and address their matters based on the power that will be invested in them through the reform.

Secondly, having local government reform serves to reduce disruptive and antisocial behaviour by citizens in seeking to get their concerns addressed. Local government reform places responsibility for managing local affairs and for sustainable development at the local level, rather than central government. It will afford citizens greater access to, and ability to influence the policy and decision-making process.

“My third and final point, Mr Speaker, speaks to the (decrease in bureaucratic red tape). At present, the various ministries in government control the funding of local projects. If the municipality wishes to undertake a project they'd have to send their proposals to the various ministers [which] may result in the frustration of citizens due to long waiting periods. Therefore, giving autonomy to local authorities to manage local funds can be effective in getting more projects done in a shorter time,” he argued.

The newly robed junior mayor also called for greater accountability in the management in the affairs of local government.

“Though I stand resolute that local government reform is good for Jamaica, I am proposing that there be laws and sanctions to govern the affairs and activities of our local governors to avoid the misuse of resource and to uphold the core values of the parish council. These could come in the form of an annual financial report outlining the expenditure to support claims.

“There needs to be quarterly meetings with the ministers in charge of the various ministries in which work will be done… And finally, a law to state that any local authority that fails to submit financial expenditures for amounts spent on any local project, be it roads, cemeteries, or parks, will face the consequences,” the young man concluded.,

A member of the adjudicating panel, Clyde Edwards, project manager for the Local Government Reform Programme, was most impressed with Mitchell's presentation. “His presentation was organised, the argument was clear from he started speaking and introduced his subject, and then he moved through the element of local government. And by the time he reached to the conclusion he was very clear why the reform of local government was very necessary. He provided the structure of local government, the services and the rationale,” he told Career & Education.

Among the other institutions represented were the University of Technology, Jamaica; St Catherine High, Bog Walk High, Old Harbour High, Glenmuir High, G C Foster College, and Moneague College.

— Basil Walters




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