Al-Rawi: Local-govt reform to mirror THA structure

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Faris Al-Rawi –

RURAL Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi says the government is planning to adopt a module, similar to the structure of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), to enhance local-government operations. He said, because local government had not been performing optimally over the years, the Municipal Corporation Act 1990 was in dire need of reform.

At the third Arouca/Maloney Party School segment on Saturday night at the Bon Air Gardens Community Centre, Al-Rawi said, “The solution now is to take a THA model, take a cabinet and constitutional model and put the mayor as a chief secretary.

“The people who are now in the executive could be called secretaries and the secretaries are full-time secretaries with specific functions.”

Like the THA, each secretary would be assigned to divisions that would be focused on either planning, audit, infrastructure and recreational development.

Some of the amendments in the reform include increasing the term of the council to four years, establishing a municipal council and an executive council and digitising corporations to expedite and simplify operations.

The municipal council would have to answer to the executive council.

The amended act is expected to also address problems of delivery by giving more power to corporations and clearly outlining the duties of each body.

Al-Rawi said, “The municipal council gets to investigate and check the executive council, just like you have a standing committee in Parliament. We must have checks and balances.

“Local government has a problem, people are saying we don’t deliver. Why don’t we deliver?

“Local government is one of the largest ministries. We have 80 per cent of the road networks. We have every square, playfield, market, our streets and city centre, public health, planning. We deal with 30,000 employees.”

Al-Rawi said approximately $2.5 billion is allocated to the ministry and 75 per cent of that covers the salaries of workers the corporations cannot account for.

He said he was surprised to learn there was no data to say how many workers were under each corporation.

“We pay them every month. It (the money for salaries are) coming out of the system. We know how much it costs but the corporations cannot tell us how many employees they have.

“The next question is where are they and what are they doing?”

Al-Rawi said most corporations were 20 per cent staffed because the relevant service commission took years to make substantive appointments.

“Imagine paying people with the $2.5 billion to work and you know don’t know where they are. No one to supervise them. They carry out instructions if they want.”

He said the amendments to the law would pave way for “the ability to hire, ability to fire, discipline, to hire the post you need to most, ability to reform to digital-transformation needs.”

Al-Rawi said the assets of the corporations needed to be quantified for local government reform to take place.

“To reform something you have to measure it. It took me 28 days to get all of the corporations to identify what their assets were, how many trucks, and backhoes. Twenty-eight days of nagging and nagging to figure out 45 per cent of the assets not working and they could be fixed for $5 million.”

Just 36 days since he was appointed to lead the ministry, Al- Rawi said he had already identified all that had to be done to get local government working the way it was intended to.