Since its introduction in 1996, local government has empowered communities in the Family Islands to address many of their local concerns in addition to developing their island communities. Now, the Minnis Administration is hoping to build upon the successes of the Family Island Local Government system here in New Providence and has launched a National Advisory Committee (NAC) for the Introduction of Local Government to New Providence. The Committee, at inception in April, was encouraged to carry-out consultation with a wide cross-section of New Providence residents to gauge the needs of the local populace and to gain insights from them to assist in the implementation of their desired structure. “Introducing a strong system of Local Government would empower New Providence residents to resolve a lot of our local issues from alleviating traffic congestion and deterring traffic violations to eliminating neighborhood bush mechanics. I believe that empowering communities through local government would significantly decrease the nuisances and pollution ranging from residents burning trash in communities to the dumping of unwanted appliances on vacant lots. Additionally, empowered communities would be able to address issues such as animal control and animal cruelty,” explained Senator Ranard Henfield, Chairman of the National Advisory Committee for the introduction of Local Government in New Providence. “We live in a country with innovative, intelligent and proud Bahamians who, while eager to assist in community and national development, are limited to vying for Parliament to contribute to the development of our communities and country at large. I think it’s time we encourage leadership at various levels of society and government”.
Under the direction of Senator Henfield, the NAC hopes to make its recommendations to Cabinet later this year. Given the goal by Prime Minster Minnis to introduce an effective and efficient system in 2020, one which would allow residents in New Providence to have a more hands-on approach to addressing matters that directly impact their lives and communities, the committee has commenced stage two of their research, consultation, and recommendation project. The NAC was adamant that a wide cross-section of New Providence residents be involved in this process. The committee itself reflects a diversity of residents as well as it is comprised of individuals such as Dr. Nicolette Bethel of the University of The Bahamas, Valentino ‘Scrooge’ Brown of the Hay Street Community Movement, Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle of the National Development Plan, Ed Fields of the Downtown Nassau Partnership, Roderick Pinder of the Bahamas Association of Local Government Authorities and many other noteworthy residents. As part of its consultation, the NAC engaged Bahamian agencies in July to consult various residents from the twenty-four communities around the capital, inclusive of civil society organizations, the business community, the media and community leaders to gather their input. “Consultation with the public about what they want in Local Government in New Providence is critical” explained NAC committee member Matt Aubry, of the Organization for Responsible Governance. “The goal of Local Government is to give citizens greater opportunity to express their ideas and concerns about their communities. This is an effort of empowerment and civic engagement, seeking input through an open and honest dialogue can provide an insight into what is really important to the people.”
Participants in the NAC’s consultation exercises were generally open to the idea of Local Government implementation for New Providence. They were eager to offer suggestions on issues which ranked high on their list of community concerns – better area planning, education, waste management and even community safety. Those polled also offered their opinions on specific caveats designed to make a local government system more accountable like and weighed in on how such initiatives could be funded without adding to the overall tax burden of Bahamians as well. One of the NAC committee members, well-known morning talk-radio personality, Dwight Strachan noted, “This is one of the most important issues facing the future development of the entire Bahamas, not just New Providence. True Local Government, with elected representatives, fully empowered to address community challenges without having to appeal to (and wait for) Central Government for matters like fixing traffic lights or potholes, traffic flow, and zoning, or garbage collection and recycling programs.”
Now with phase one of their consultation in hand, Senator Henfield and the National Advisory Committee will, as of this week, reach out to major stakeholders for their input. The list of persons they hope to meet over the next few weeks include MPs, Government Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Family Island Councilors, Family Island Administrators, major third parties and a few others with institutional knowledge. “We would love to sit with the Permanent Secretaries, MPs, Family Island Councilors and Administrators,” said Henfield. “We know that they hold the key to advancing democracy by empowering communities in New Providence”.