UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial – Angelo Marcelle
OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial and Social Development Minister Donna Cox argued over who will benefit from local government reform, in debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Bill 2020 in the Senate on Tuesday.
Lutchmedial observed that in contrast to other Caricom countries such as Guyana and Jamaica, local government is not mentioned in Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution.
“That is where you start.”
She doubted the bill would actually deliver tangible benefits to the population when it is enacted into law. Lutchmedial also wondered if the passage of the bill was just something the PNM would use in its local government election campaign later this year.
“This is a lot of dreams.”
Referring to a proposal in the bill to create executive and municipal councils, Lutchmedial asked if this was a move to silence opposition parties in local government corporations. Out of the 14 local government corporations in Trinidad, she said only six are composed of members of either the PNM or the UNC.
She believed the councils could function like mini-cabinets that could exclude parties opposed to the PNM.
“The opposition has its say but the government has its way.”
In response, Cox countered, “There is an unfortunate tendency for us to continue responding to the Opposition’s continuous charade of shifting goalposts.”
Government never said it did not want to hear the Opposition’s views on the bill. Cox said this was reflected by a minority report from the Opposition that was attached to a joint select committee report on the bill.
While the PNM wants to pass legislation that shifts TT away from its colonial past, Cox claimed, in a reference to the London-based Privy Council, the UNC “prefer that we hold on to it and remain wedded and beholden to those wearing powdered wigs sitting thousands of miles away from us.”
She lamented that the Opposition’s view of local government is about “CEPEP and stray dogs.” While the UNC opposes local government reform, Cox said several of its local government councillors want it .”
“This is a good example of the disunity that exist among the rank and file of the UNC.”
Cox was happy that long-serving local government representatives like former Toco/Sangre Grande Regional Corporation chairman Terry Rondon could retire with more than just a handshake from grateful burgesses.
She rejected Lutchmedial’s claims of executive councils being used to silence the Opposition. The executive council would be separate and apart from the municipal council. Cox said through the former, the mayor or chairman can appoint people with specific skills and competencies as secretaries, to led specific divisions in the corporation. This is not possible now.
She rejected Opposition claims that the bill was a secret way to introduce property tax as ridiculous and disenguous. Cox claimed UNC members who have houses overseas “religiously pay their property taxes (there).”
She saw the bill being used to better deploy municipal police to help deal with murders, domestic violence and land disputes.
She added that the bll will also help corporations to better treat with homeless people within their jurisdictions.
Opposition Senator Anil Roberts supported all the points raised by Lutchmedial. He promised when re-elected to government, the UNC would build local government from the ground up and not “from the Cabinet down.” He described the latter as authoritarian.
Temporary independent senator Josh Drayton said not all local government reform initiatives needed to be legislated. He cited an app developed in the United Kingdom which identified roads to be repaired at municipal level as as an example of this.