House approves EBC’s local government report

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MP Keith Scotland. File photo/Jeff K Mayers

PORT of Spain MP Keith Scotland rejected claims from the Opposition UNC that the PNM was afraid to call local government elections and planned to postpone them.

Scotland slammed the UNC for creating this false narrative. He wondered whether it was the Opposition that was afraid of local government elections being called.

He made these statements during debate on a motion to approve the draft of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) (Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly) Order, 2021, in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The House passed the motion later in the sitting.

Earlier in the debate, St Augustine Khadijah Ameen claimed, “Government is afraid to call the local government elections.”

In response, Scotland claimed that the UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition delayed the calling of the general election in 2015 by five months.

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George cautioned Ameen for making certain comments towards Scotland as she left the Parliament Chamber while Scotland was speaking.

“Please don’t disturb the proceedings.”

Scotland reminded MPs that the EBC was “a creature of the Constitution.” The order and the report associated with it, he continued, was a regular feature of the commission’s work.

He dismissed Ameen’s claim that Government bringing the order for the Parliament’s approval on Wednesday, reflected some sinister agenda where local government elections were concerned.

“There is nothing hidden. There is nothing occult.”

Scotland said in the report linked to the order, the EBC proposed the creation of additional electoral districts in the Mayaro/Rio Claro, Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, Siparia and Penal/Debe Regional Corporations. All four corporations are controlled by the EBC.

He also reminded MPs that, to date, the Government’s decision to extend the life of local government terms from last December to this December, had not be found to be illegal in the local courts.

Scotland acknowledged that the matter was currently being appealed before the Privy Council in London.

Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings said, ” I don’t know what the UNC has against institutions (like the EBC).”

Cummings added the absence of Opposition parliamentarians from President Christine Kangaloo’s inauguration at the Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Monday, “tells us a bit about their commitment to country.”

He said the changes made to boundaries in the EBC’s report were not political in nature.”

Minister in the Education Ministry Lisa Morris-Julian supported the arguments made by Cummings and Scotland. She said while the UNC does not understand what local government reform meant, the PNM knows “reform is necessary for anybody to move forward.”

In concluding the debate, acting Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein said all of the UNC’s allegations about the PNM wanting to delay local government elections are baseless.

Hosein said, “There is nothing to oppose.They want an election and this (order) paves the way.”

Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit and Couva South Rudranath Indarsingh supported Ameen’s earlier allegations about the PNM wanting to postpone local government elections.

Mohit said the results of the last local government election in 2019, showed voter apathy towards local government.

She wondered if changes to boundaries and additional electoral districts outlined in the EBC report were meant to benefit the PNM.

Indarsingh claimed the PNM was “using the EBC report to pilot the propaganda of local government reform, when none will come.”