(CNS): The creation of district councils in the new single-member constituencies will be given a financial boost if the Progressives are re-elected, the premier revealed at the PPM national conference Saturday. During his speech, Alden McLaughlin announced that if returned to government, his party would be amending the district councils law and allocating a budget to all 19 seats so that specific local issues neglected by central government could be addressed in the communities by these new councils.
The issue of district councils has been largely ignored since the creation of the legislation by former premier McKeeva Bush. The provision to create them was introduced in the 2009 Constitution but the legislation steered through the Legislative Assembly in 2010 by the UDP government caused controversy because it required a significant proportion of the councils to be appointed by Cabinet. At the time McLaughlin said this went against the spirit of the constitutional provision.
Since then, the only MLA who has ever had a functioning district council is Ezzard Miller in North Side, which was created through town hall style nominations and an open ballot. While Bush attempted to appoint a council in West Bay, it was boycotted by the opposition candidates that he selected and it never met.
During this PPM administration, the issue was not considered a priority as the government was focused on making the change to the wider electoral system to introduce ‘one man, one vote’ in single-member constituencies, as promised in the 2013 manifesto. But it is clearly seen as a second term issue by McLaughlin.
The premier said that politicians were all well aware of how important it is to stay connected to their constituents, and the time was now right to improve that connection.
“The advent of single-member electoral districts provides us with the opportunity to look with fresh eyes at our system of representation,” McLaughlin told the party conference audience. “Every one of the candidates of this party recognises the need to stay in touch with our people. We also recognise that our system, as presently structured, does not easily facilitate the regular flow of information from the people to their elected representatives. We are going to remedy this by making the necessary amendments to the district councils law to ensure that a district council is established in each electoral district,” the premier added.
He said that each council would receive an annual budget for which they will present audit financials to, “fix the small, little things in their communities that matter most to them and which maybe overlooked by central government or simply take too long to be corrected.”
Members will be required to at least attend the quarterly meetings of the council to address voters’ concerns, get feedback about the local communities and to advise them of government plans and policies.
McLaughlin said that as well as promoting better communication between electors and the MLAs, this would strengthen the system of democracy. He did not say how the councils will be elected, though he implied that this would be through a democratic process.
The idea of district councils has been welcomed by supporters in the past for a number of reasons: They not only provide an opportunity for MLAs to be held more accountable and for constituents to raise specific concerns about their district but they are also seen as training grounds for future politicians.
Each election, as novice candidates take to the hustings, it is evident that many of them have very little knowledge of government and politics or what is really expected of them if they were to be elected. Serving on a district council can help provide the grounding that many people with political ambition but little experience need and encourage those who may have the skills but who not have seen politics as a career to give it a try.