Development of Local Government
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The early communal villages, established after ex-slaves bought up abandoned plantations, produced mainly root crops (ground provisions) and plantains. But because of inadequate local markets, these crops did not produce steady profits for the villagers.
In addition, the villages were not properly managed and public works such as clearing drainage and irrigation canals and repairing bridges did not receive adequate attention. As a result of this, the Governor, Sir Henry Light, during 1839-1840, appointed the stipendiary magistrates, Strutt and Lyons, to assist the villages to develop a system of local government.
A document known as the Agreement was worked out and it demonstrated the determination of the Africans in the villages to improve the political, physical, social and moral welfare of their society. While each village had its own Agreement, some of the principles pertaining to raising money for public works were reflected in the Agreements for the other villages.
The village of Victoria agreed to have a governing Committee of seven members to be elected by the proprietors. Meetings of this Committee were to be held on the first Saturday of every month, except in the case of emergency meetings which could be called at any time. The Committee was also obligated to call a general meeting of all the proprietors every six months.
To raise money for public works, each proprietor had to pay one dollar per month to the village Committee which used the accumulated sum for repairing bridges and kokers, making roads and digging drains and trenches. If a proprietor failed to pay his monthly subscription, the members of the Committee could enter his farm and reap sufficient of his produce to meet this fee.
The Committee members themselves had to be committed to their task and any member who was absent from a meeting (except in the case of illness) was fined four dollars.
The Victoria Agreement also specified that land could not be sold to "strangers" without the consent of the Committee. Even if they were guests of a proprietor, strangers were not allowed to go to the farms owned by the villagers, and could not even remain in the village for more than a day without the permission of the Committee.
There were also strict rules against immorality. The Agreement stated: "Any proprietor, householder or person of whatever sex, committing themselves in drunkenness, cursing, swearing, fighting, gambling, dancing . . . shall be taken up, and a fine put to him or her, said fine not to exceed five dollars for the first offence, second and third to be doubled in proportion . . ." In addition, anyone carrying firearms without permission faced a fine of five dollars.
Regulations for business places stated that all shops, including rum-shops, were to be closed on Sundays. The Committee also agreed to erect two buildings to be used as places of Christian worship and as schools.
While Victoria had its specific Agreement, this village like all the others, by law, had to subscribe money to repair the public road which ran through it. However, problems arose when some proprietors failed to pay their monthly subscription since not all the villages had a system by which farm produce could be seized to meet the payment. As a result, the Court of Policy decided that an estimate of the cost of public works in each village should be made, and based on this estimate, each proprietor would be assessed a specific amount.
After 1848 village councils (or Committees) were elected in many of the villages to collect the assessments and to supervise the public works taking place. Subsequent Governors changed these councils to Village Management Committees and later again to Village Board of Improvement Commissions. These latter two were not very popular among the proprietors of the villages because they had no autonomy and were expected to carry out the wishes of the Governor who could even