Gov’t continues to defend election delay 

GOVERNMENT on Friday, during the sitting of the Upper House, again defended its decision to postpone the local government elections for another year, with the Opposition insisting that the reasons given are not sufficient to warrant another delay

Senators hotly debated the provisions of the law allowing for the extension – the Representation of the People (Postponement of Elections to Municipal Corporation and City Municipalities) Act, 2023.

The Bill seeks to postpone local government elections until February 2024, the third time since 2020, to allow further time for continued public consultation on draft legislation to enable Portmore to become Jamaica’s 15th parish. The Bill’s memorandum of objects and reasons also cited the high level of uncertainty in the global economic environment, and the high cost of holding the elections as other reasons for the delay.

Opposition Senator Gabriela Morris stressed that the reasons given for the postponement of the elections “are quite farcical”.

CRAWFORD… Portmore becoming a parish should not impact local government elections

“The Jamaican people are seeing this delay for what it really is: a farce, a sham, a sad affair of political expediency on full display,” she said, insisting that the delay not only tramples on democracy, “but it tramples on representation and the importance of that representation”.

She pointed out that there are candidates who have been working for years, specifically young candidates, “who have offered themselves in service of the nation, [and] who have sacrificed time, resources and energy. It is unfair to them. It is unfair to all the candidates who have been slaving away hoping that their retirement will come, who have not been giving fully of themselves or giving full representation that the people demand. It is unfair”.

“We see that almost 15 divisions are without representation. How is it that we can feel comfortable allowing people to live that way? We must allow people to exercise their franchise,” Morris said.

She also questioned the reason that “the entire Jamaica, and the democracy that Jamaican people have been afforded, be held at ransom because the Government is trying to make Portmore a parish?”

“Why, at a time when the Government posits to have the largest budget, there are no funds available for an election? The Government has collected an excess of $80 billion of projected revenue and the minister of finance announced growth in the economy and is expecting consistent growth for the upcoming financial year. I ask why, when it is the duty of the Government, in good times and in bad times, to allocate financial resources that will allow the Jamaican people to exercise their franchise?” she queried further.

Meanwhile, among the points he put forward, Opposition Senator Damion Crawford argued that Portmore becoming a parish should not impact local government elections.

“I hear this foolishness that Portmore needs to be a parish. The local government election does not prevent Portmore from being a parish. A reasonable action is to run a referendum within this local government for Portmore to say if they want to be a parish and how they want to be represented if they are a parish. You have not done that,” he said.

Crawford insisted that the “whole quarrel” around Portmore has nothing to do with Portmore, but is instead politically motivated.

“The truth is that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) wants the St Catherine Council for which, if the People’s National Party (PNP) holds Portmore as a part of St Catherine, they will unlikely get it, and the PNP wants to maintain St Catherine Council for which, if Portmore is not a part, they might not keep. This has nothing to do with Portmore,” he insisted.

“Portmore should have the ability, not based on the fight over St Catherine, to say ‘we want to be a parish and if we are a parish, we want direct elections or no direct elections’. Why is it that for Portmore, you have delayed an election when to be a parish, Portmore is not being prevented,” he further queried.

In her response to the arguments posited by the two Opposition senators and others who participated in the debate, Leader of Government Business Senator Kamina Johnson Smith insisted that the Government believes in democracy and the rule of law.

“This Government cherishes its democratic identity and its DNA. It flows through both our domestic and foreign policy,” she said.

She also reiterated the Government’s “interest and desire to ensure that the people of Portmore have their representational anomalies addressed in the best way possible, which would mean that these issues should be addressed before the next local government election in which they would then clearly participate in a context of clarity”.

“To proceed with the local government elections without completing the legislative process to make Portmore Jamaica’s 15th parish would be a waste of taxpayers dollars and scarce resources,” she said.

Johnson Smith also insisted that the Administration is committed to holding the next local government elections in the shortest time practicable, as provided under law.

“The delay is not perfect, the delay is not optimal, but as arrangements continue to be made for the divisions where the vacancies exsist, with the assurance that work continues in the 15th parish process, when the election is held, it will be held for the first time since Universal Adult Suffrage where the residents of 15 parishes will elect their local government representatives,” she said.

The local government elections which are constitutionally due every four years were last held in November 2016. They were due to be held in November 2020 but were postponed as the country was still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was notwithstanding the fact that a general election was held two months earlier, in September of that year.

The Bill was eventually approved with 12 senators voting for the postponement of the elections, while five voted against it.