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Business groups support direct elections of mayors

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2016 | 6:21 PMJovan Johnson
Warren McDonald
Dennis Chung

Two of the leading business lobby groups in Jamaica say that local government should be reformed to allow for the direct election of mayors as part of enforcing accountability and breaking partisan loyalty.

"That would be a

positive," said Warren McDonald, the president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. He was speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum on local government on Monday. "I don't see why not. This should strengthen the whole democratic process that we have."

He received support from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) representative who disagreed, however, with McDonald's proposal that term limits be included in the reform package.

"One of the things we have been pushing from the Chamber is, for example, that mayors have term limits. You want new leadership to evolve in the system. You don't want one person to hold the position for 50 years."

More accountability

Dennis Chung, PSOJ chief executive officer, said the direct election of mayors would add "more much more independence to the process and accountability".

But on term limits for mayors: "I wouldn't share the view. You need term limits at the central-government level, certainly at the top leadership. The mayor is different, in my view. It is someone who is very close to the people. For example, if you had direct elections of judges, would you say term limits for judges?"

Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown said that she did not have an opinion on whether the heads of municipal corporations should be directly elected.

"I don't have an opinion on direct [elections] because I don't have any information as to why that would improve what it is we now enjoy," she said.

Chung argued that with direct elections, there could be a clearer separation of powers. "What happens right now is that the mayors carry the bidding of the (division) who voted them in. If you had direct elections, the mayor would be beholden to the people."

Noel DaCosta, a former corporate relations director for global alcoholic beverages company Diageo and current commissioner on the Jamaica Debates Commission, also supported the view that mayors should be directly elected.

Currently, mayors are chosen from among their colleagues, who are all elected by a single division within a parish. Historian Arnold Bertram pointed out that for direct elections, the entire parish would have to vote for the individual.

Currently, only the municipality of Portmore in St Catherine directly elects its mayor.