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Bahama Journal: Ignoring Local Government
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Posted by:Jun 16th 2004, 05:40:29 pm
Fig Tree News TeamGray, Others Ignoring Real Local Government Problem

Fred Sturrup

The establishment of the Local Government Act in 1996 by the previous central administration was one of its finest accomplishments. For sure, the system was never without its share of problems but the powers that be at the time are to be congratulated for having the strength of character to hand over the day-to-day managing of business in the Family Islands to the people who live there.

Quite frankly though, the Act does not lend as many deficient aspects to the system as current Local Government Minister, Hon. V. Alfred Gray, now appears to be insinuating. The truth of the matter is that he seems to be overwhelmed by the system and having to deal with some of the people duly elected by the citizens of the respective island communities.

The Act is clear. There are no portions of that are too difficult to discern. In fact, to give an example, the former Local Government Permanent Secretary Harrison Thompson who virtually ran the department when Vernon Symonette was the minister in charge, was able to handle all of the rough spots and difficult persons.

The system actually worked well and the island folks were (and are today) very much appreciative of the empowerment the Act afforded them in determining their own destinies. Now, there is talk about shifting to putting a director of local government in the role that has been played a permanent secretary.

It would be interesting to see whether there will be any positive difference.

The view here is that Minister Gray is missing the boat. Local Government as it stands today has just one real problem…the meager stipends. The high water mark stipend for Chief Councilors is $400.00 per month and it goes down all the way to $75 for town committee members.

All persons who function via the common sense route would conclude that it is a disgrace to expect elected officials to do the kind of work demanded under the system for such small financial compensation. Realistically the $400.00 for Chief Councilors is a joke. The Chief Councilor if he/she is going to properly do job that goes along with the portfolio, is saddled with a full-time situation doing the business of the people.

A lot of quality persons offered their services during the first term. However once it was determined that the central government had no real appreciation for the importance of the job, the amount of work at hand and had no intention of adjusting the stipends, there were mass resignations.

When elections rolled for the second term, many of those who understood the Act as well as permanent secretaries and administrators opted not to go back to the electorate. There is nothing really wrong with the system other than the great need to increase the stipends to meaningful levels.

That is the crux of the matter.

But, the politicians don’t appear to be interested in getting around to that issue. None of them seem to care. Debates after debates in the House Assembly come up and are complete….but the stipends of Local Government elected officials never hit the table.

The system will fail…not because there is anything particularly wrong with what is laid out in the Act. It’s just that politicians generally feel threatened by island leaders. The empowerment of the Act combined with any reasonable adjustment of stipends would result in a greater independence of the people in the islands than the lawmakers want.

They want to maintain the general status quo…keeping the island people at tremendous disadvantages…and kind of backwards.

They continue to miss the big picture.

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