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Local Government - 2 Years Later
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas government's newly-revised system of local government came hurtling into effect, at least on paper, with the enactment of the law-the Local Government Act, 1996.
However, as it has been widely known, some form of local government has, by necessity, been active since civilization came to these islands. And, let me hasten to say, that civilization came before Cristobal Colon "rediscovered" the Bahamas.
The archipelagic geography of this particular commonwealth, the separation of its people, the near inaccessibility of some of its rural settlements, and even the fact that the inhabitants of some of these little villages do not wish to, nor have to, relocate to the areas which have been largely urbanized, (for better or worse) by foreign concerns, have all contributed, in some measure, to be birth and spasmodic growth of local government-a government by and for the people.
The Bahamas has been divided into more then twenty (20) districts for the purpose of local government administration:
North Abaco-Central Abaco-South Abaco
Acklins-Crooked Island-Long Cay
North Andros-Central Andros-South Andros
East-West Grand Bahama
City of Freeport
Rum Cay-San Salvador
We shall be concerned with the Abacos, specifically Central Abaco, for this discussion.
Within the eighteen or so months since it has been declared "of age", there has been a marked change in some family islands, including the Abacos, and a less distinct change in certain others. It is interesting to note that the further away the particular Family Island is from the seat of central government, the less appreciable the difference local government has made in that island's general development. Like the delayed and less obvious development of certain areas of the 18-year-old human body, perhaps, given time and opportunity, those parts will catch up.
The formal system of local government, minted in 1996, decrees that there shall be districts in each officially inhabited Bahamian Island. Abaco is comprised of three; North, Central and South Abaco. Each district shall have a non-elected representative of the central government-an Administrator (Commissioner) who will work in concert with his local government counterpart, and elected chief Councilor. They, in turn, shall work in concert with the various and sundry elected and-or appointed officials of the Town Committees and Statutory Boards.
In the formal system, which is by no means necessarily less effective, formal elections giveaway to popularity, or wealth, or charismatic persuasion-all of which will always exist in some form or other if one means to get anything done.
The major idea behind local government is to engender the cooperation and support of the people for whom it is meant to work, by making them responsible for whom and to whom they freely elect to office. In this way, they can be said to have only themselves to blame.
The Central Abaco District (which does OT include Green Turtle Cay, Treasure Cay, Crossing Rocks, Sandy Point or Hole In The Wall), is further sub- divided into Townships as follows:
- Man-O-War-Great Guana Cays
- Hope Town (Elbow Cay)
- Dundas Town
- Murphy Town
- Marsh Harbour-Spring City
Each of these is represented by a Town Committee headed by a Chairman and his-her Deputy. It should be noted that a female official chairs the Hope Town Committee and is the only such leader in the Abacos. The Town Committees are responsible for every matter from the maintenance of public buildings to the naming of streets. The District Council, supervised by its Chief Councilor, acts as the highest local government authority in the area. Its authority also encompasses the following Statutory Boards:
- Town Planning Committee-Port Authority
- Licensing Authority-Hotel Licensing Board
- Tourism Advisory Committee-Crown Land Advisory Committee (not yet formed)
- Road Traffic Authority
Of the seven Statutory Boards named above, only the Road Traffic Authority, by its very definition, has jurisdiction over all the Abacos. The others must confine their respective authority to the Central Abaco District.
The Board, appointed by the District Council, serve for one fiscal year and become eligible for renewal at the end of that period.
Most of the boards have collectively been responsible for the approval of two hundred, seventy building applications with in the 1996-97 period, the approval (in principle) of the construction of the RND Cinema complex at Seventeen Plaza, and the approval of three private schools-Forest Heights Academy, Long Bay School and Agape Christian School; a major (100 lot) subdivision in the heart of Central Abaco-Central Pines Estate; the proposed expansion of the Marsh Harbour International Airport; over one hundred business licenses; the approval of port fixtures (docks, moorings, etc.) and the diligent policing of road traffic regulations island-wide.
One has only to drive into and around any of the District's Townships, albeit with a critical artist's eye, to attest to the improvement efforts of Abaco's people with regard to their parks, streets, cemeteries or buildings. Murphy Town's public cemetery is a picturesque and peaceful haven of rest; Dundas Town's Bayview Park (the scene of many a season's basketball frenzy) deserves its name; while the trash facility at Man-O-War Cay does not-it's that well-kept and pleasing to the eye. Great Guana Cay boasts its deck at the Fig Tree site and the renovated public dock; Marsh Harbour has been landscaped in various public areas like Queen Elizabeth Drive onto Bay Street, and we all can see the lovely results of a certain determined lady's campaign to beautify the Crossing Beach recreational facility. Spring City has a bus shelter and public bathroom facility worthy of mention. Hope Town, ever-mindful of the power of its quaint and well-preserved loveliness, maintains the attraction of its famous lighthouse. If one wants a definition of "white picket fences", Hope Town is the place to look for it.
The pride of the people in themselves and their environments of work and play are clearly evident through this form of government. It's as if they were only waiting to show the central government and the world what they can do.
Formal local government, however, is less than two years old; there are still creases to iron out and cracks to fill. But if the residents of Abaco continue to pull together as they must, if they are to succeed, these islands will, without a doubt, serve as the model for how the system of local government ought to be run.