Challenges in Institutionalizing Democratic Governance via Popularly Elected Mayor: The Case of Jamaica

Challenges in Institutionalizing Democratic Governance via Popularly Elected Mayor: The Case of Jamaica

Eris Dawn Schoburgh (University of the West Indies, Jamaica)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1645-3.ch016
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The presumption underlying current policy discourse in the Caribbean – that local government represents a “convenient” political realm for the practice of democratic governance –resurrects a long-standing debate about the proximity of local government and democracy, and highlights the difficulty facing local governments in the region to “vindicate their democratic credentials,” especially given a pervasive view that local governments are the final frontiers of populism and patronage. This chapter employs a constructivist framework to analyze the extent to which popularly elected mayor, introduced in Jamaica in 2003, achieves a balance between democratic governance, populism, and patronage. Apart from its theorized democratic role, local government performs other subsidiary but critical functions dictated by the nature of the political environment. If democratic values are to predominate, innovations such as popularly elected mayor and the process of municipalization require sustained institutional support to minimize competition between old and new politico-administrative values.
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“Democratic local government is widely taken, largely as an act of faith, to be a prerequisite of national democracy” (Smith, 1998, pp.85–86). Though used in reference to an assessment of empirical studies on the relationship between local government and democracy in central Europe, Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico, this statement could easily be associated with policymakers in the Caribbean who have at every opportunity expressed their belief in local democracy as a central pillar of sustainable development and local government as the foundation of local democracy. Caribbean governments have displayed strong commitment to reshaping the institutional arrangements necessary to facilitate the growth of democracy at the subnational level. One can hardly ignore how the transnationalization of ideas and practices within the context of globalization has influenced domestic policies. Indeed, the subnational level has been accorded primacy of place in negotiations concerning development aid, and local government, in particular, has emerged at the center of certain institutional imperatives, such as a shift from purely central-local relations to more robust intergovernmental relations; incorporation of “third sector” participation into local policy and political processes; and pursuit of a process of substantive decentralization. The policy imperatives of democratic governance that require, among other things, “participation, transparency and accountability in decision-making” (CEPA, n.d., p.1) are reiterated in, for example, Cheema, Shabbir, and Rondinelli (2007), Grindle (2007), Manor (1999), the World Bank (1997; 2004; 2008), and Yilmaz, Beris, and Serrano-Berthet (2008). These ideas have been marked in aid practice, with technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Governance and Institutional Development Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, among other international technical bureaux (ITB) that have helped to advance the process of decentralization in the region. Through its regional symposia the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) has kept subnational issues on the policy agendas of Caribbean governments.

The objective realities of the practice of democracy in the Caribbean have also influenced renewed perspectives on the value of the subnational level in the quest for “good” governance. For instance, commentators have noted an increase in the level of disaffection among citizens, particularly the youth, with the quality of leadership and local political institutions. The view is that neither can produce solutions that meet adequately the challenges that confront them. As a consequence a significant proportion of the citizenry has become apathetic showing little interest in participating in community activities or performing civic duties such as voting. The West Indian Commission (1992) made a similar observation. “Good” local governance is thus equated with democratic governance which, in turn, is facilitated through a process of decentralization.

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