The House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon passed a Bill delaying the holding of the next local government elections by a possible 15 months.
The Bill, entitled the Representation of the People (Postponement of Elections to the Municipal Councils and City Municipalities) Act, 2020, was piloted by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie.
It requires that the provisions of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) be temporarily annulled, to allow for a further 12-month delay, after the initial three-month delay allowed in the provisions of the Act which begins on November 29, 2020.
The next local government elections, including the municipality of Portmore, St Catherine, are due by November 29, 2020. However, the three month extension will take the waiting period up to February 27, 2021. The additional 12-month period which the amendment allows will further delay the elections to February 27, 2022, a possible 15- month postponement. But the Government can call the elections at any time within that 12-month corridor.
McKenzie noted that the decision to have the elections postponed over a lengthier than normal time was in light of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the destruction of infrastructure by the floods which were caused by rains unleashed by several storms and depressions which circled Jamaica over the last few weeks as well as the cost of holding the event.
“There are significant challenges in holding these elections at this time, as the country is well aware that the government is engaged in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the economy and indeed the lives of people, not just here in Jamaica but across the world,” he said.
He said that the primary focus is to ensure that the health and safety protocols are protected, keeping the infection rate as low as possible.
Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding, said his side fully supported the need for a delay. However, he suggested that it would have been better if the normal three-month delay was activated later on to avoid a snap election.
Opposition MP Angela Brown Burke also questioned the fact that councillors who intend to retire at the end of their current term may very well resign and leave their divisions unrepresented, in the circumstances.
However, McKenzie said that the issue of the councillors’ retirement would have to be addressed at the municipal council level. The Bill was passed with unanimous support.He also assured the Opposition that there would be no snap election during the period.