No ease to corruption in local government

No ease to corruption in local government

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

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Dear Editor,

We who are concerned about corruption in Government, its agents and agencies, are once again calling out the frequency of alleged corruption at our municipal corporations.

These entities are the closest governments to the common man, and when their operations descend into allegations of skulduggery — and in some cases, as in the Manchester Municipal Corporation, blatant theft — it leaves us to wonder how much further will we as a country descend into the pit of corruption.

As a former municipal councillor myself, who retired undefeated from a marginal municipal division, it really hurts to see and hear some of the things the constituents say about their local officials. Truth be told, the structures as well as checks and balances in municipalities to guard against acts of corruption are extremely weak. The Municipal Act of 2016 to reform local government and the municipalities has done very little to stem corruption. The age-old “too much opportunities to be corrupt” still exists. It also brings into sharp focus the existence of the proverbial “blind eye” being turned by oversight departments and individuals on activities in these municipalities.

There are two oversight departments that I think are being muzzled, caponised, and marginalised to maintain the status quo of corruption. I speak of the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) and the internal audit departments of the municipalities. The 2016 Municipal Act speaks specifically to these two oversight departments having ways and means to improve transparency, accountability, and good governance. But the municipalities with which I am familiar islandwide have made little or no progress in effecting or improving the capacity of those departments. The internal audit departments are still being manned by one personnel answerable to the mayor, accountant, and the superintendent of works, when that office should only be answerable to the permanent secretary and the Office of the Services Commission. It should only act according to the remit of staff orders, and not on the whims and fancies of the mayors and other staff members.

Why should the MPAC be made up of members of the majority party in the municipalities and senior staff members who are signatories to documents that may come before the department? I made a recommendation in 2008 at a local government seminar that no elected official should be a member of the MPAC. In fact, it should be constituted with qualified members of civil society upon recommendations from Social Development Commission.

There is another cause for concern, and that is the power of the mayor to approve matters outside of the full municipal council, which is called in municipal terms “approving out of session”. This is not good for governance, as this is a corrupt way to get things done without the knowledge of the minority party.

Local government reform should improve governance, but from what we are seeing all that is happening is that it is being “defanged” by those with a corrupt agenda.

Fernandez Smith

Former Jamaica Labour Party councillor

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