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Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum – I smell imminent elections

“I would offer that some of the conversations on the road to December 2 really ought to focus on what matters to, and directly affects, the households in the various municipalities.”

Hardly had the ink dried on the Budget 2020 when the local election bell was rung—no real surprise there.

My take on the local, and imminent general elections, is not so much the ‘who’ but the ‘what’ for which we vote.

In previous columns, I would have cited the words of Nobel Laureate and Caribbean-born economist Sir Arthur Lewis, that good economics begin with a concern for the conditions under which people live.  For me this statement has significant resonance in the context of the imminent local government elections.

The tempo around the December 2 local elections is even more heated given the general feeling that this is a prelude to an onslaught of election campaigning towards the general elections.

While the never-ending picong and innuendo feeds the national appetite for commess, there really are issues of local economic development with which we should concern ourselves.  These issues directly impact the conditions under which each of us, in our respective households, live.

Local economic development (LED) should have as a priority, making the local economy grow and through this growth, treat with issues of poverty and unemployment at the local or municipal level.

LED strategies differ from central government strategies in that the central government is charged with macroeconomic policy and planning, provides funds, research and other support for local economic development.

Municipalities, the local government corporations, decide on strategies specific to their areas—those are the strategies that can directly impact on the conditions under which people live especially since municipalities throughout the country face diverse issues.

I would offer that some of the conversations on the road to December 2 really ought to focus on what matters to, and directly affects, the households in the various municipalities.

One conversation might be around the long-awaited reintroduction of Property Tax. The reality is Property Tax should not only be a source of income for central government but also can be used to fund LED strategies and projects at the municipal level.

I am aware that some corporations face severe funding challenges which limit their ability to fund development projects in their municipality. In some countries such as Australia, Canada and Brazil, property tax is levied both at the national level and at the municipal level, the jurisdiction in which the property is located.

In the United States, property tax on real estate is usually levied by the local government alone.

Property tax collected at the municipal level can then be used to fund LED projects and also minor infrastructure projects including pothole repairs (some not so minor), clearing of drains and water courses and of course, services such as regular garbage collection. These are issues that directly impact on households.  Inadequate or irregular garbage collection is not only an eyesore but also a health hazard. Clogged water courses, sometimes owing to overgrown bush, also pose risks since they lead to severe flooding that often negatively impacts households.

Relatedly, another line of conversation could be around developing infrastructure within the municipality (transport, roads, water and electricity etc) to make it easier for businesses in the area to operate.

While the infrastructure development contributes to better living conditions it also creates an environment that promotes economic growth.  The neighbourhood markets often need upgrades and supporting infrastructure such as parking facilities. Linked to this should be transparent policies that favour small contractors and emerging businesses—note I said, transparent.

On the road to December 2, can we elevate the conversations and discuss more sustainable local employment? Can we talk about community policing to help with the localised crime? Can we discuss a more sustainable approach to funding the work of local corporations and hold them accountable for improving the conditions under which people live in the municipalities?  Can we discuss how we create sustainable livelihoods throughout the municipalities?

That’s just my point of view.