Minister hits at local govt proposal

Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells has revealed he is concerned that the proposal for the implementation of local government on New Providence could give local government leaders too much power.

“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.

Wells added, “…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.”

The promise of local government for New Providence was a galvanizing plank of the Free National Movement’s (FNM) bid for election in 2017.

An advisory committee was set up and led by activist, and now Senator Ranard Henfield and about two years of research resulted in a report that was forwarded to Wells months ago; but no action has been taken on it.

The Nassau Guardian obtained a copy of the report which 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”.

The report said deploying the Family Island system on New Providence “would be a pointless exercise in an era when an extremely large portion of our citizenry and local government practitioners are publicly calling the system a charade”.

The report 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.

The responsibility of the districts would include the collection of garbage, removal of derelict vehicles, maintenance of parks and easements, demolition of abandoned buildings, repairing potholes and even issuance of traffic tickets by community police.

Wells said the proposal for local government on New Providence would require amendments to the Local Government Act, and that there are a number of things Cabinet must consider as it reviews the report.

“What is being proposed for New Providence, if we do that, we would have to go back to Parliament and change the act,” he said.

He added, “That was never envisaged in the Local Government Act and so that is a change.

“The requirements that are also being asked is that there be government taxes in the form of real property tax that would go directly to a local government board here in New Providence.”

Wells added, “So, there are lots of things that have to be considered that the Cabinet of The Bahamas has to think about because it’s a fundamental change in the way the current system operates.”

Other recommended means of funding local government on New Providence are traffic and environmental fines; nomination fees; community park usage fees; roadside signage fees; impound fees for vehicles parked in no parking zones; garbage collection fees; fines from ordinances and fees associated with the delivery of postal packets.

The recommendations are contained in the committee’s report.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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