A tale of two boroughs – contrasting views from Diego Martin, Siparia mayors

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Municipal Police officers perform the Entrance of Colours at the Diego Martin Regional Corporation interfaith service to mark its first anniversary at the Church of the Nativity in Diego Martin on June 8. – ROGER JACOB

JUNE is the one-year anniversary of both Diego Martin and Siparia becoming boroughs but their stories are very different.

While the PNM-controlled area of Diego Martin seems to have bloomed over the past year, Siparia’s UNC representatives say little has changed and the area is being neglected by government.

The Miscellaneous Provisions (Establishment of the Borough of Diego Martin and Borough of Siparia) Bill, 2021 was passed in the Senate on June 6, 2023 and both areas became boroughs.

Diego Martin Mayor Akeliah Glasgow-Warner said the transition from a regional corporation to a Borough brought numerous positive changes and she was grateful to the Prime Minister and the PNM party executive for selecting her to be mayor.

“I’m humbled by the confidence they have in my leadership capabilities as well as my commitment to the burgesses of Diego Martin. I am also grateful to be supported by the deputy mayor Valiesha Sookdar, and a hard-working council that go beyond the call of duty to ensure our success in every undertaking, and more importantly their zeal to serve the burgesses of Diego Martin.”

Diego Martin Mayor Alderman Akeliah Glasgow-Warner, centre, with members of the Diego Martin Borough Corporation at its first interfaith service at the Church of the Nativity on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

She pointed out that the team was spearheaded by females including the CEO, mayor, and deputy mayor. And the 14-member council was made up of nine females and four male executives.

Responding to questions from Newsday via e-mail, Glasgow-Warner said over the past year, numerous projects were initiated or reintroduced to Diego Martin.

They included the Food Handler’s Badge application process being brought back to Diego Martin so burgesses could apply for their badges at the new borough corporation building. The move also allowed the corporation to generate revenue.

There was also the business incubator series hosted in collaboration with the Entrepreneurial Development and Support Services department of the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme.

Several new committees were formed to complement existing and restructured committees including recreation grounds facilities and public spaces, security policing and traffic management, sport youth development education, and digital transformation and communications.

“One challenge that I encountered as mayor and vowed to resolve was that of communication with the burgesses. For this reason, a communications team was established to communicate the work of the borough, its projects and initiatives, and most importantly to stimulate conversations with our burgesses so we can know the things we can do to improve their lives and livelihood.

“We have seen the benefits of the efforts of this team that assisted with the business incubator programme which recorded a 100 per cent participation rate and 70 per cent completion rate.”

She added that June 20 marked the borough’s one-year anniversary so, in commemoration, it was hosting a number of outreach initiatives aimed at informing the burgesses about the corporation’s vision for Diego Martin. They included a school essay and art competition, a video competition, ministry and agency social services outreach a military parade and a civic nomination award ceremony.

Traffic wardens parade through the streets of Siparia during Borough Day celebrations on June 7. – Lincoln Holder

“Our aim for this years’ celebration, themed ‘One Borough, One Community, Celebrating Together,’ is selling the beauty of the region and to ensure our burgesses are more informed of the persons that contributed to development of the region.

“Looking ahead to the forthcoming year, my aspirations and plans are to create more developmental projects, to reinforce our public-health responsibilities, to increase our social-services outreach initiatives and to foster partnerships with agencies and stakeholders.”

Speaking to members of the media after the corporation’s first annual interfaith service on June 8 at the Church of the Nativity in Crystal Stream, Glasgow-Warner said the focus would be ensuring the burgesses were highlighted and involved, so there will not be any carnival-like celebrations.

However, she said there would be a cultural expo and show on June 14 highlighting steelbands, artisans, cooks and artistes. That is scheduled to take place after a parade, which is scheduled to begin at 10.30 am at Crystal Stream Road to West Park Savannah behind the corporation’s administrative building.

Diego Martin Central MP Symon de Nobriga, Minister of Communications in the Office of the Prime Minister, said being elevated to borough status could simply be a name change if the people of Diego Martin did not understand the pride that came with the status.

He said the pride of being a burgess as opposed to a resident was about the people loving one another and working to elevate each other.

“I started in 2016 with Alderman Glasgow-Warner when she was then Councillor Glasgow. I am extremely hopeful for the years to come because of this young mayor that we have and the young, vibrant members of the council who I know are working hard as a team and for their burgesses.”

Mayor: No new Govt help for Siparia

Siparia Mayor Doodnath Mayrhoo, during an interview last week, told Newsday there had been no changes or additional allocations to the area since it became a borough.

“As a matter of fact we got less than we would have gotten before. We applied for a little over $19 million in the mid-year review and we saw we got an allocation of about $1.5 million, which I suspect would go to garbage collection.”

He said it received no ministerial projects, none from the Rural Development Company or from the Urban Development Company of TT and it could not initiate any new projects because of a lack of funding.

Doodnath Mayrhoo –

Mayrhoo said the borough was grappling with a number of land slips but the corporation did not have the financial capability to deal with them. Many of the roads were in terrible condition and he was concerned about flooding in the area as the wet season was upon the country.

He said the corporation applied to the works ministry for assistance but nothing had been done.

“We (the UNC) always said it was just a superficial name change with no additional benefits to the burgesses and the government has lived up to our expectations. We have seen no improvements or additional funding to take care of the needs of the people. It’s very disappointing.”

He said he had no hope for the borough’s second year.

“Judging from the economic situation in the country I do not want to hold my breath. It seems as though this country is really broke.”

He said local government reform, which would allow corporations to collect taxes to serve its burgesses, was a “farce” used to fool people into voting for the PNM in the last the local government election.

“We knew this local government reform would not come. They are not prepared for it. They do not have the financing to take care of it because they would need to hire staff, pay them, and rent and furnish spaces.

“We cannot handle what we have right now so how would we handle six-eight divisions like a ministry?”

Opposition leader and MP for Siparia Kamla Persad-Bissessar concurred saying the $19 million requested would have gone towards road repairs, equipment, cleaning watercourses and providing water trucking services. Instead, she said the PNM government continued to underfund and underdevelop the borough.

She told Newsday via WhatsApp last week, “The one-year anniversary of the Siparia regional corporation’s renaming to a borough is an occasion to remind us of this government’s gimmickry, superficiality, and deceptiveness.

“The PNM’s granting of borough status to Siparia was cheap election propaganda. There has been no difference in funding or legal status, except perhaps for the location of abattoirs and markets and a few road regulations.”

She said the change of status was just a name change, superficial “development,” which the borough had to fund from its limited resources to change public signs and stationery.