More than a political football

Prime Minister Dr Rowley - Photo by Keith Rowley
Prime Minister Dr Rowley - Photo by Keith Rowley

THE PRIME Minister did on Wednesday what he should have done since last November. He went to Parliament and, in a long-awaited statement, explained his Cabinet’s position on the timing of the next local government election.

“There is no crisis,” Dr Rowley declared as he addressed the fallout from the Privy Council’s ruling, last Thursday, which found his administration’s attempt to extend the life of local government invalid. “We see a change, not a crisis.”

It was a performance of a piece with the dramatically mixed signals this Government has been sending on this matter of late. On the one hand, it has enacted far-reaching reforms premised on the potential of local government to improve lives. On the other hand, it has been guilty of underplaying the significance of local governance as a whole.

That underplaying was evident when Cabinet last November announced its decision to extend the life of corporations, not in Parliament but at a post-Cabinet media briefing via a line minister.

It was also evident from the fact that it took the PM almost a week to break his silence in the House.

Yet, despite the grave forum, it was business as usual for Dr Rowley: he confirmed an election will be called but deferred announcement of the date until after the tabling of validating legislation next Monday. In other words, more delay.

It was an anticlimactic, if not inauspicious, outing as it remains to be seen whether any of this will encourage more people to take local government seriously or to see local elections as anything more than barometers of a government’s ratings.

Voter turnout was merely 34.7 per cent in 2019, 34.2 per cent in 2016 and 39.1 per cent in 2010, when the elections were held for the first time after an absence of almost seven years. Turnout in last year’s Debe South by-election was just 26 per cent.

If it is unsatisfactory that such a crucial aspect of this country’s democratic traditions was effectively determined by a group of London law lords last week, it is ironic that the justices may well have injected new life into the stalled parliamentary discussion about the role, function and relevance of local government in our isles.

Whatever the position of the Cabinet and whenever the election is held – it should be held urgently and its date should not lie in the PM’s back pocket, as he confirmed it remains on Wednesday – local government should be treated as more than a mere political football. It should be a vital aspect of accountable and effective democratic governance.


"More than a political football"

More in this section