Portmore for parish status — A smart move

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Portmore for parish status — A smart move

Markland C Edwards

Monday, December 14, 2020

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THE world is in transition. Governments across the globe continue to navigate the difficulties, particularly the social and economic fallout, because of the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Residents of Portmore now stand at an extremely critical juncture in our history as we are being called on to embrace and prepare for change and transition.

As reported by the Jamaica Information Service ( JIS), 13 years ago then Prime Minister Bruce Golding advised the House of Representatives of the Government's firm commitment to the designation of Portmore as a parish based on “the size of its population and its unique characteristics”.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has repeated the commitment in its manifesto leading up to the general election in September 2020. More than a decade later, Portmore continues to be an ideal candidate to transition from city to parish status for much of the same reasons cited by former Prime Minister Golding. However, the context is now entirely different, making the policy proposal one to not merely be brushed aside or rejected on pure partisan grounds or, perhaps, honest ignorance.

It is my understanding that Portmore is once again being called on to be a model for the country and the world as we push towards the creation of not just a parish but a smart parish.

This concept of a smart parish or smart city is one that utilises information communication technologies to meet the demands of the citizens. For residents who are, quite rightly, asking how will parish status help me? I am going to humbly suggest that the discussion now centre on the benefits of a smart parish, which are obvious even without much research.

At the heart of this transition and the development of a smart parish must be how technology will help to improve and enhance the experience of the citizen. This refers to the experience of a student, a business person, an individual doing business with the State, or a citizen simply trying to access State services.

Scholars have pointed out that community involvement is critical to the development of a smart city or smart parish. In other words, the push is for the use of technology in certain critical areas in a way that will positively impact the local community. The push to a smart parish should ultimately mean building stronger communities in which citizens are better served by their elected officials at all levels.

A smart parish should translate to smart governance, smart planning, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart health care, smart energy use, smart building, and ultimately smart citizens. The technology must be used to benefit the people. It must improve their lives and their experiences when interacting with the State and private players.

We can examine smart governance, for example. Elected officials should always ensure that the people are connected to what is happening at the Portmore Municipal Council. The people must understand the process and the technology should be available and put to use to help bridge the information gap between the policymakers and the citizens.

Now is a good time to start considering allowing citizens to view council meetings remotely. Allow citizens, who are able, to join the proceedings via any of the now available online meeting platforms to watch and listen in on how decisions concerning them are made. That is how you keep people connected to the process. Then allow them a channel to send their feedback and ideas to the council. That is how the people will benefit from smart governance.

The time is now to simplify the process for people to apply for licences and permits. Applicants should be able to complete the process online and have a responsive system to answer their questions and do approvals. People are now weary of standing in long lines to do business. Now is the era of kerbside pickups and takeout deliveries.

It is time for residents to see the natural connection between economics, the protection and preservation of natural resources, the development of human and social capital, quality of life and how they participate in the system of governance to ensure that their lives are better.

As Portmore transitions to parish status it is critical to find the right synergies and linkages to ensure citizens get the type of service delivery they deserve. The people must be made to feel a part of the process and this is how they will benefit.

Our young people are always a good place to start. Now is the time to start pushing them to begin thinking about innovations and technology, and get them trained for non-traditional sectors and industries.

The Government must be commended for its move towards establishing and strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. If Portmore is to be a smart parish I would unreservedly advocate for several STEM schools to be established there. The future beckons and our youth must play a significant role in this process of transition.

Another way I can see residents of Portmore benefiting from a smart parish designation is when we start implementing smart building and planning. When we start utilising 21st century engineering and building practices then we will not see the same kind of images appearing every time there is a little rain. We cannot continue to have our people experience the kind of trauma and misery when drains overflow causing waters to sweep through their homes because of shoddy engineering or improper planning.

I am also looking forward to smart policing. This will happen when people recognise that the police are utilising smart technology and strategies to solve crime. Once there are results this will engender confidence and the police will get the co-operation they need from the residents in getting information to solve crime.

The implementation and increased use of the technology are not the goals. The goal of transforming Portmore into a smart parish is to ensure that the life of each citizen is improved. The people must always be the motivation and their empowerment and betterment should be the result.

The prime minister signalled a few months into the pandemic that Jamaica must now transition to a digital society. The announcement was, quite rightly, welcomed across all segments of the society, including the Opposition, as COVID-19 had begun to reveal deficiencies in the country's technology infrastructure and the immediate need for most businesses to now go online due to the hazards now associated with close physical gatherings. To date, I am yet to hear a single Jamaican ask: How will a digital economy help me?

Portmore is well placed and positioned to lead the way in terms of being a model for what this digital society will look like as it embarks on the transformation to a smart parish. Let the conversation and consultations continue. Portmore needs this, and we are ready to get smart.

Markland C Edwards is a Portmore resident and a justice of the peace for the parish of St Catherine. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or markland4u@yahoo.com .


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