Mixed feelings in San Fernando on local government elections

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Posters of UNC candidate for Cocoyea/Tarouba, Shane Samlal and PNM candidate Teresa Lynch on a light pole in the Gopaul Lands area for the upcomming local government elections. – Lincoln Holder

PEOPLE in San Fernando expressed mixed feelings about next week’s local government elections and what the outcome could mean for them.

The San Fernando City Corporation (SFCC) is one of 14 local government corporations up for grabs on August 14.

The corporation, currently held by the PNM by a 6-3 margin over the UNC, is seen as one of the key political battlefields that could decide who wins the elections.

A North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) poll issued on August 3 said the PNM and UNC are locked in a close battle to win control of the SFCC and Sangre Grande Regional Corporations in the August 14 local government elections.

NACTA said the PNM has a strong lead in four seats in San Fernando but a smaller lead in one.

The UNC has strong leads in two seats and a smaller lead in one. One seat is a toss-up.

On Tuesday, Newsday visited some electoral districts that fall under the SFCC to get the views of burgesses ahead of next Monday’s elections.

Anderson Scott, 37, from Marabella, said he will be voting next Monday. Scott works as a barber in Cocoyea.

“Yes, most definitely I will be voting next week.”

Scott was hopeful that the local government reform being promoted by the PNM would benefit burgesses.

“Once the reform goes into action as the ruling party said, then it would be a good thing.”

Resident Anderson Scott speak about local government election in the district of Cocoyea/ Tarouba. – Lincoln Holder

Asked how he believed the corporation has performed since the last local government elections in 2019, Scott said, “They are probably a seven out of ten.”

He said if local government reform works as it should, the corporation’s performance would improve.

Scott hoped to see improvements in street signage, proper roads and better clean-up.

Asked if anything offered by other parties contesting the elections that interested him, Scott said, “I like the UNC and I like what they stand for this local government elections, with a little bit more police presence in the area. We need a lot more of that. Plenty robberies taking place.”

Scott believed a greater police presence would be particularly beneficial to small business owners in San Fernando.

A Cocoyea resident who declined to give his name said he was unimpressed by the parties contesting the elections.

He claimed the area does not have a good community centre.

“This is a stronghold for PNM, but everything in the community dilapidated.”

He said neither the PNM nor the UNC had put anything in place to benefit the residents in places they represent.

“We drive on the worst road and a month before local elections, they patching one (road), one (road).”

Another Cocoyea resident named “Brent” was undecided about voting.

He wanted more jobs for burgesses.

Brent felt the corporation was doing an average job but could do more to provide employment opportunities for burgesses.

Pleasantville Circular, in the electoral district of Pleasantville. – Lincoln Holder

In Pleasantville, a resident named “Troy” declared he was not voting for the UNC because he could not trust them.

He cited the return of former UNC chairman Jack Warner to the party as one of the reasons why he will not vote for the UNC.

Asked if he will vote next Monday, Troy replied, “Of course I am voting, I am voting PNM.”

A Marabella resident who declined to give his name said he will not vote.

He asked, “What the government does give you?”

He wanted to see better roads, drainage and jobs addressed as issues in the local government election campaign.

A Mon Repos resident, speaking anonymously, also said he won’t vote on Monday.

“Promises come and promises go and nothing ever gets done.”

On the ground, the PNM and UNC are pursuing different strategies to win votes next week.

In Cocoyea/Tarouba, incumbent PNM councillor Teresa Lynch’s campaign focuses on “Looking back while thinking forward.”

Lynch has provided burgesses with information about several improvements under her watch since 2019. These include cleaning and desilting watercourses in Cocoyea, Tarouba, Marabella and Pleasantville; repairing 150-plus streetlights; and roadworks in places such as Tarouba Heights and Gopaul Lands.

Her UNC rival Shane Samlal’s campaign is based on the party’s “stand-your-ground” strategy. Samlal is promising secure homes, schools, communities and jobs if he is elected councillor.

Both parties have a indicated strong desire to win San Fernando.

At a PNM public meeting at San Fernando City Hall auditorium on May 24, Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said San Fernando was the best-performing of all 14 local government corporations in Trinidad.

Al-Rawi is also San Fernando West MP.

With $256 million in projects in progress, Al-Rawi was not surprised that the UNC was interested in San Fernando.

“Look at development and look what is on sale by the UNC.”

He said in 2014, the UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition government neglected the city.

“Nothing going on in San Fernando. At best, there was a pseudo attempt for a waterfront.”

Al-Rawi said the newly upgraded Skinner Park, ongoing work at King’s Wharf and other parts of San Fernando since the PNM returned to office in 2015 tell an entirely different story about the city today.

He identified $67 million in coastal erosion protection at King’s Wharf, $136 million to widen Lady Hailes Avenue and $43 million for commercial and residential squatter relocation as some of the developments under the PNM.

At a UNC cottage meeting at Palms Club on August 3, National Transformation Alliance (NTA) political leader Gary Griffith said whoever wins the SFCC will win the elections.

Griffith told UNC supporters the NTA has no candidates contesting the San Fernando City Corporation, which is currently controlled by the PNM. But he told them that a vote for the UNC in any part of the country was a “vote for Gary Griffith and a vote for the NTA.” Similarly, Griffith continued a vote for the NTA is also a vote for the UNC.

He said the UNC needs at least 10,000 votes from non-traditional UNC supporters to add to its traditional votes in San Fernando to take the corporation away from the PNM.

SFCC at a glance (put in box)

THE San Fernando City corporation comprises nine electoral districts: Cocoyea/Tarouba, Springvale/Paradise, Pleasantville, Les Efforts East/Cipero, Les Efforts West/ La Romaine, Mon Repos/Navet, Marabella South/Vistabella, Marabella East and Marabella West.

The PNM holds the Cocoyea/Tarouba, Les Efforts East/ Cipero, Marabella West, Mon Repos/Navet, Pleasantville and Springvale/Paradise districts.

The Les Efforts West/La Romaine, Marabella East and Marabella South/Vistabella districts are held by the UNC.

The UNC’s former councillor for Marabella South/Vistabella, Marcus Girdharrie, is now contesting the district on a PNM ticket.

In the 2019 local government elections, a total of 50,422 people were eligible to vote in San Fernando.

But the total number of ballots cast was 18,011.