In its February 11th edition, the Tribune published an article by the Hon. George Smith, long-time politician and Cabinet Minister, entitled “Local Government….at best, inadequate” . In the article, Mr. Smith recognized the demands for local government by various politicians going back almost 50 years, and then lamented the inadequacy of the present so-called system, enacted based upon legislation passed in 1996. The article vastly understates the case.
The over-all impression given is that Local Government is an add-on to our system of government which successive governments, until 1995, had chosen not to create. It is not. It is as fundamental to proper governance as the kidney is to the human body. You can live without it, but you cannot say you are living as intended or well. The following three functions confirm, in my view that without a second level of government there is no real democracy.

POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
The National Football League needs College football to develop players that continuously improve the quality of play on the national stage. Similarly, the Baseball Minor Leagues prepare baseball players for the “big leagues”. Nations do the same. For example, in the US or Canada, preparation for national politics is facilitated by municipal, county and state or provincial politics. And while I am certain there are an exception or two, the need for preparation at other levels than the national stage is obvious. The first baseball league might well have started without a minor league, but the sophisticated, highly competitive league of today could not exist without a training-ground. So the first function of a Local Government is to provide for the development of those interested in the National stage.

PRIORITIES
Walking past my house (or even visiting it) may alert you that I need electricity supply, better roads or cheaper paint. What it does not do, however, is tell you what my priorities are for getting those things. It does not tell you how I would budget my money to achieve those goals, or whether there are needs I have that you could not see. Our present National development practice assumes that all communities have the same priorities, and funding, promotion and negotiations are allotted accordingly. As I write, for example, one Bahamian community has apparently been stabbed in the back by its own government, who are rumored to have approved a project the community does not want, a project it has already said “no” to. While National politics will always supersede any local politics, both working together is the only way the National body can work properly. And respect for the ability of those concerned to manage their affairs at a local level is the most basic respect.

GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE
By far the most important role for Local Government is that it involves the people in the governance of their country. Presently the nation is divided into two groups for governance: a benevolent system of “leadership” and a dependent, disengaged, powerless electorate. For example, the vast majority of the people of the country approached the discussion of VAT, not as a way for the nation to get a better handle on its affairs, but as one entity – the Government – needing more money to correct its own mistakes, and wanting to get it from the other entity – the poor, nearly-broke dependent. In the present scenario, while there may be talk of “accountability” in the media, it is only meant to apply to the Government. The rest of us are not involved, and therefore take no responsibility for the direction, success or lack of success of our country. It’s “dem boys” who have us in this mess, and it’s up to them to fix it. Further, if one benevolent government fails, we will simply replace them with the next “messiah” in line. We need a system of Local Government that encourages the people to “get involved” in their own business.
Mr. Smith also speaks of “bringing government closer to the people”. This is not a choice. Without it, there is no democracy. The style may be up for debate, but not the implementation. Unfortunately, by citing only politicians as those demanding local government over the past fifty years, Mr. Smith is strengthening the public’s belief that only from a political stage should one express political (or National) opinions. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of our roles as citizens.

Finally, I congratulate Mr. Smith for having the guts to expose this urgent issue, and I trust his article achieves its goal.

Pat Rahming

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