Britain and the United States in the Caribbean: A Comparative Study in Methods of Development

By Mary Proudfoot | Go to book overview
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Certain general conclusions emerge from a study of local government structure and problems in the islands under consideration. In all cases local government is recognized as being unsatisfactory. In all cases concern is felt over this; but in the case of Puerto Rico the concern is confined to the government, the United States being both unaware of the problem and in any case unconcerned by what it regards as a matter for Puerto Ricans to determine themselves.

The unsatisfactory performance of local governments appears to arise from certain common causes. In no case, for instance, are the local authorities as yet established on a firm financial footing. Either their finances are inadequate to discharge the services now required of them, as in the case of the three municipal governments in Trinidad; or they are unduly dependent upon subventions from the central government, as in the case of Jamaica; or they are provided with a fixed sum of money over the amount of which they have no control, as in the case of Puerto Rico and St. Lucia. It is certain, however, that local government, if it is to be a reality, involves the acceptance by elected local bodies of responsibility for taxing their local communities to the extent necessary to maintain the services for which they are responsible. The central government may, and no doubt must, assist, but in the last analysis, the inhabitants of the area must be prepared to pay for the services they wish to enjoy. If the central government is to provide all, or the bulk of the money, it is best to abandon the pretence, and have agents of the central authority to discharge the services.

In the second place, the relationship with the central government requires clarification, and old attitudes ranging from acute rivalry in the case of Puerto Rico, to a conviction that the central government is fair game to be milked on every possible occasion as in Jamaica, must give way to cooperation as between partners both of whom are concerned in providing the public with efficient and disinterested service. The most effective means of ensuring this is the establishment of a strong department of local government within the central government. This has been done within the last few years in both Trinidad and Jamaica; somewhat half-hearted provision has been made in St. Lucia; and Barbados has accepted the idea of a local government department in principle.

Some outstanding questions of policy have still to be resolved. It is clear that local government could be, although it usually is not,


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Britain and the United States in the Caribbean: A Comparative Study in Methods of Development


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