More than 20 years after the Ingraham administration introduced local government to the Family Islands, the effectiveness of local government has deteriorated, mainly because its practitioners for the most part have failed to educate themselves on its purpose, have not learnt and stuck with their roles, have failed to put in place strategic plans and were not able to sustain or provide for a vision, according to Acting Director of Local Government Brenda Bullard-Colebrooke.
Bullard-Colebrooke’s observations are contained in the final report of the Advisory Committee on the Introduction of Local Government to New Providence, portions of which National Review reported on last week.
While the committee’s research and consultation over a six-month period 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”.
“In 2020, the government of The Bahamas proposes to implement local government on the island of New Providence,” Bullard-Colebrooke said in the report.
“Unlike the system that is currently in place in the Family Islands, any form of local government in New Providence would have to be stronger, more effective and resistant to those factors that have caused the system in the Family Islands to deteriorate and become ineffective. Namely, lack of knowledge, training, funding and political bias.”
The advisory committee found that “an alarming number of our local government practitioners are not familiar with the laws of The Bahamas or international best practices”.
“As such, our findings mandate that local government practitioners be properly and consistently trained for the success of this initiative,” the committee said.
The committee said its findings suggest that a strong local government serves as a training ground for national leaders as political parties and the electorate would get to gauge a potential national candidate’s commitment, vision, effectiveness and support base while they serve at the local level.
North Eleuthera MP Rickey Mackey, a former local government practitioner, expressed in his consultation sessions with the committee that the introduction of a strong local government, starting on New Providence, would enable individuals to assume a functioning role in their locale, according to the report.
“MP Mackey indicated that, in his opinion, the system in the Family Islands can be regarded as a disappointment.
“MP Mackey is of the view that the current issues in the Family Island system can be accredited to political tribalization embedded in the councils by political parties. He voiced that local government issues must be left to local governments and urged the advisory committee to embed regulations that limit political parties’ manipulation of the system.
“To that end, MP Mackey concurred with the advisory committee’s proposals to introduce mandatory debates, campaign spend limits, term limits, a recall system and public deliberation of local government contracts.
“MP Mackey suggested that declarations/disclosures for candidates should be minimal.”
He also supports the proposal of primary elections and feels that they ought to be offered to further encourage the election of the best candidate for the job rather than the most popular or richest candidate on the ballot.
According to the report, the North Eleuthera MP also suggests that councils should host regular public discussions and Q & A segments with the residents, utilize the parliamentary channel and broadcast their meetings via radio stations (which are eager for content).
The advisory committee’s report also shares the views of MICAL MP Miriam Emmanuel.
“MP Emmanuel also expressed a view, which was shared by many Family Islanders, that the Family Islands are being treated as colonies,” the report states.
“Their practitioners, residents and MPs note that the islands generate a substantial revenue for central government, yet their local governments’ allocation is minimal.
“MP Emmanuel expressed her concern, and cautioned the advisory committee, with respect to major businesses in a local government district influencing local government decisions. Additionally, MP Emmanuel suggested that there ought to be input from the local government before central government approves developments and concessions within a local government district.”
She reiterated the importance of strong and comprehensive legislation and proposed including corporate social responsibility.
Additionally, she recommends that the MPs in a district can fill in as aides and provide a layer of checks and balances for the local government councils.
Senator Ranard Henfield, a well known community activist, chaired the advisory committee.
In the report, he observed that introducing local government on New Providence during this term of office would be a defining moment for the Minnis administration and the fulfillment of a major campaign promise.
Henfield said in the report, “It has been said during one of our consultative meetings that ‘the Ingraham administration gave birth to local government in the Family Islands during their first term but did not intend for the child to grow’.
“It confounds many practitioners that the twenty-two-year-old system still awaits its allowance from central government. As the Minnis administration embarks on its very own defining moment, the degree of autonomy and the investment this administration makes into its own creation will speak volumes for generations to come.
“Undoubtedly, the Minnis administration has to advance this implementation exercise with care, not to repeat the shortfalls of the Family Island system which lacks regular capacity building opportunities, strategic development planning at the district level, economic sustainability measures, adherence to good governance and the principles of public life inter alia.”
Henfield stated that it was a disheartening moment to converse with practitioners that are not familiar with the legislation, regulations, obligations and good governance principles.
“For the history of the existing system, residents have been relegated to voting for whomever spends the most on their campaign, is more popular or well connected,” he observed.
“Unfortunately, personalities prevailed over issues being addressed. It is imperative that the Minnis administration does not permit its creation to descend that path.
“It is being recommended, and the Cabinet is enjoined to approve, that the New Providence local government elections mandate participation in public district debates by all candidates in addition to questions and answer sessions at the community level.”
Cephas A. Cooper, director of the Department of Local Government, observed that how local government for New Providence is initially perceived, will determine the quality of individuals it attracts to offer themselves as active participants.
“A stronger form of local government, therefore, has to be introduced in New Providence if it is to successfully get out of the gate,” he said in a statement contained in the report.
“Having adequate resources and capacity is critical to enable local government to deliver on local needs and priorities and respond to national challenges.”