Almost one year after the Local Government Advisory Committee’s report was presented to Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells, that committee has yet to be invited to sit with the minister or Cabinet to discuss its findings, according to Senator Ranard Henfield, who suggested yesterday that the implementation of this key campaign promise will not come without a fight.
Henfield, who heads the committee, was responding to Wells’ recent critique of the report findings.
During an interview with The Nassau Guardian last week, Wells expressed concern that the proposal for the implementation of local government on New Providence could give local government leaders too much power.
But, Henfield said leaders should not fear upcoming leaders.
“Which national leader sets out to become a leader to only close the door behind them so that nobody else can learn to lead?” he asked in a statement.
“Surely, the people that elect our public officials have good ideas on how to address their community concerns while comfortably sending 55 of us to Parliament to address national concerns.”
Henfield added that the implementation of local government would result in the containment of wastage of taxpayer money and free up policy makers to concentrate on national issues.
“No MP should be fighting to have the first or final say over who gets the contract for garbage collection, the trimming and cleaning of roadside verges, the repairing of potholes, the removal of derelict vehicles, the collection of stray dogs, finding residents jobs, providing after school programs or back to school supplies, etc.,” Henfield said.
“Those aren’t matters worthy of a national legislator. We didn’t elect members of Parliament to be bogged down in community matters. We sent them to the national Parliament to address national issues not garbage collection and derelict vehicles, etc.
“Those are matters that national legislators should empower residents to address on their own, within their budget allocations. I can assure you that if a community was given a budget to socialize, educate and empower their residents, that less taxpayers’ dollars would be wasted and there would be more value for money.”
The committee’s report strongly recommends that Cabinet introduce strong local government on New Providence during the 2020 local government election cycle. Its findings also suggest that there be an overhaul of the Family Island local government system that was birthed in 1996 “but remains in an infantile state”.
Explaining his apprehension about aspects of the report, Wells said, “What is being proposed for New Providence is a mayoral system where you have a direct election for an individual to be your mayor, kind of like how you directly elect a member of Parliament,” he said.
“…There is a call to split New Providence into about five or seven districts. Right now we have about 23 or 25 members of Parliament in New Providence. And if you split this up into five where you are directly electing an individual, you could have a mayor who would have gotten 14,500 or 15,000 votes to be a mayor.
“And then you would have at least three or four constituencies in that mayoral district of which members of Parliament are sitting making laws, and you have a gentleman who would have received 15,000 more votes than the people to whom he has to answer.
“I want you to think about that. One thing you know about democracy is he who has more votes traditionally should have more say.
“So, we will be looking at the issue and we’ll be getting back to the Bahamian people.”
Henfield said Wells’ comments were unfortunate.
“What is most unfortunate, and has sent shockwaves throughout the committee even more than the delay in this report being presented fully to Cabinet, is to hear via news clips, the minister’s fear that a local government official – emphasis on local – may have more persons voting for him or her than a member of Parliament – emphasis on national policymaker,” Henfield said.
“…Leadership nor democracy is about the elected official having the most say. It’s about the elected official ensuring that the people who elected him, or her, are heard and their needs and suggestions addressed.”
He added: “Mayors are elected worldwide to not only limit the political party influence, but most importantly for residents to determine who is best suited for the community service of addressing their local needs – as opposed to who gets the nod from the minister or prime minister of the day.”
The report, which was obtained by The Nassau Guardian, recommends dividing New Providence into five districts.
Each district would include a cross-section of socioeconomic groups, and would be funded by an allocation of the property tax collected from the district as well as by other means.
Each district would be “managed” by an elected mayor and a group of council members who are representative of each of the districts’ wards.