As voters go to the polls on June 22 to elect persons from their community to serve through local Committees and Councils it would be good to review what local-government is.
Now in its twenty-first year of existence, this year marks the seventh local government election in The Bahamas after having been implemented on March 8, 1996.
Previously a type of local government existed in The Bahamas in the form of appointed “Board of Works” where towns and villages held influence over these Boards, but almost all final decisions were made by the central government through that islands’ Commissioner.
Now the islands of the Bahamas enjoy a somewhat greater degree of autonomy; however, New Providence is controlled directly through central government; though there is discussion of bringing a form of local government to Nassau.
The act that implemented local government had described all districts as either being Second-Schedule or Third-Schedule districts.
There are a total of 32 local government districts: 13 second-schedule districts, which are further sub-divided into town areas, and 19 third-schedule districts, which are all unitary authorities. The second and third schedules together make up the first schedule.
Local government policy has been formulated and administered by the Department of Lands and Local Government through the Office of the Prime Minister. The day-to-day policy handling of the portfolio falls to the Minister of Local Government who also is empowered to create new local government areas from time to time based on demographics. The administrative and financial management is overseen by the ministry’s permanent secretary.
Local Government in The Bahamas has seen a share of success and controversy since its introduction, and while there is a certain amount of authority given to local Councils and Committees, there are times when central government makes decisions against the wishes of or without the knowledge of the local board.
Every district in the Bahamas has a district council. A district council is a corporate body with perpetual succession; capable of entering into contracts, of suing and being sued, of acquiring holdings, leasing and disposing of property of any description, and of doing all such things and entering into such transactions that are within the scope of the Local Government Act.
As stated in The Bahamas Local Government Act 1996, Districts councillors shall within two weeks of their election, elect from among themselves a Chief Councillor. The Chief Councillor shall be the representative of a Districts Council for all affairs. He or she is to preside over all meetings and also themselves co-ordinate these meetings.
All district councils are classed as first-schedule councils. The first-schedule is further sub-divided into two types of councils: two tier second-schedule district councils that have town committees within their jurisdiction, and unitary third-tier district councils.
Second-schedule districts would have statutory boards and committees which are appointed by the council, such as Road Traffic Licensing Authority, Port and Harbour Authority, Hotel Licensing Board and the Town Planning Committee.
Town committees are sub-structures of the second-schedule district councils, but are also corporate bodies themselves. They share responsibility with second-schedule district councils for a number of the schedule local government functions. They also have statutory responsibility for local regulation and licensing within their jurisdiction.
Third-schedule districts councils are unique within the Bahamas because they combine the responsibilities of the second-schedule districts and of the town committees. It should be noted that both second and third-schedule district councils carry out a building control function.
Third Schedule Districts in Abaco are Moores Island, Hope Town, Green Turtle Cay and Grand Cay – they handle all jobs that would normally be given to the appointed statutory boards.