Al-Rawi: Government to mount robust defence of local government reform

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi.

IN response to the pre-action protocol letter challenging the local government reform package, Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said it is par for the course.

He said government would mount a robust defence and demonstrate the propriety of its action.

Al-Rawi acknowledged receipt of the letter from the chambers of former AG Anand Ramlogan on behalf of United National Congress (UNC) activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj on Monday, which he said, “seeks to impugn and challenge the partial proclamation of the local government reform legislation.”

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar confirmed serving the Prime Minister as head of Cabinet, Al-Rawi and the AG with the letter.

Al-Rawi said, “I have accordingly passed that letter to the AG, Reginald Armour, for him to deal with that matter, as is required. In relation to my own position in this matter, of course, I am confident that the AG would deal with that matter robustly. The AG would deal with the law and I would operationalise.”

Al-Rawi stressed that local government reform remains one of the most critical priority items of the government’s agenda to deliver the services this country has spoken about for decades.

Having been given the responsibility to draft that law in his previous capacity as AG, Al-Rawi said it is not an easy feat.

He said it is unfortunate that in her comments on Monday night, Persad-Bissessar did not reflect that this is no secret as it was debated at two joint select committees (JSC) over seven years under the Keith Rowley government.

Having participated in the JSCs, he said, the UNC produced a minority report, and nowhere in that minority report was any concern expressed about the operationalisation of that law.

“They complained about property tax coming in at this time – they said more consultation was needed.”

Saying the issue has been dealt with transparently and openly, Al-Rawi referred to the August national forum with regional corporation representatives which Persad-Bissessar had told her members not to attend.

“That is the same Persad-Bissessar who instructed all mayors, chairmen, councilors and aldermen to purposefully boycott the open forum the Prime Minister triggered in August.

“In the course of that presentation, I specifically dealt with the operationalisation of that law and indicated partial proclamation of the law in packages, because it is critical to go ahead.”

Saying her logic defies common sense, Al-Rawi said if the government followed her line of thinking, the country would have to wait another three years to see the full package.

“I genuinely believe Mrs Persad-Bissessar is standing alone. I think if she could raise the whip on her members, it would be very clear all of them want it. In my conversation with her team, they all openly support this. They all say, ‘Look, we can’t say it publicly, but you are doing the right thing. We want the extra revenue from local government. We want the extra revenue from property tax, we want to have responsibilities, we want the process of reform. We want the ability to hire and we want the ability to manage – but the only person saying otherwise is Mrs Persad-Bissessar.’

He added, “I feel safe and confident in the AG’s ability to deal with this issue. I would leave him to treat with the law and response in relation to that. I will press on in delivering the packages of reform in their detailed purpose. We are hard at work at local government.”