One more year for local government – Minister announces extended terms for councillors aldermen

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Faris Al-Rawi

Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said under the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Bill 2020, which will be partially proclaimed on Tuesday, the terms of all councillors and aldermen currently in office will end on December 3, 2023. He said this extra year will allow for rollout of the local government reform package

Local government elections were constitutionally due on December 3, 2022, or up to a three-month period thereafter.

Speaking at a post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday, Al-Rawi said the specific parts to be proclaimed would be the sections 11 and 12 of the Municipal Corporations Act, which previously stated that councillors and aldermen would serve three-year terms.

“This is the start of the local government reform journey. We specifically have to roll out property tax collection, more revenue into the hands of the corporations, and then bringing to life full-time corporations where your elected members serve, the mayor and councillors go into full-time employment.

“Within the extra year, we will be able to build out all the relevant sections of the law, including taking councillors who are executive members and making them into secretaries similar to the THA; operationalising 13 separate divisions inside local government divisions, including planning, engineering, audit and accounting, sporting and recreation, etc.”

Al-Rawi said the next local government election will be run under the new law in its full form, which involved critical financial benefits to the corporations for their survival and efficient operation. He said one of these inclusions would be operationalisation of the collection of residential property tax under the new part five of the Municipal Corporations Act

“This means that several hundred million dollars will go to the corporations where the residences are located for them to manage the money. In addition, the new law involves maintenance of schools, which means we have to transfer monies located under the Education Ministry or in a state enterprise such as NIPDEC to the regional corporation. Certain functions from the public health division of the Health Ministry and certain reporting requirements back to the Finance Ministry will go to the corporations. The working arrangements are complicated and we must start.”

He said there would be further partial proclamations over the next year as feedback would have to be received from various entities.

“What is the salary of a councillor going to be? This is the Chief Personnel Officer in consultation with the Finance Minister. Job descriptions also have to be created. The hiring practices, the consultations have to be concluded with the trade unions to make sure the hiring practices are in order, and the two service commissions that are involved, the public service commission and the statutory authorities service commission. They will have the ability to hire their own people. The CEOs have to take the instructions of the mayors.”

Al-Rawi said if the elections were held when constitutionally due before the new law was implemented, the other measures could not be put in place and the elected councillors would have to be sacked.

“If you run the election under the old law, it would be another three years for those terms to expire, during which people would not have as much money as they could have spent on their behalf by the corporations. I see it as an opportunity for the people of TT to get what was promised to them during consultations.

“You would invite nominees, schedule an election, and run it on the basis of the old law. You would probably have part-time councillors who come from different areas who can’t therefore become executive members unless they give up their jobs. People need to know with certainty whether they should or can participate in the local government elections, and one of those things is, are you prepared to give up your full-time occupation somewhere else and become a full-time executive member of the council, because that is what you’d be required to do. This is the first step in certainty to ensure the new law is fully operationalised.”

Al-Rawi said several sections of the bill would be mentioned in the debate on the Finance Act in Parliament on Friday, including the triggering of a tax amnesty, involving land and building taxes, which came into effect under the Persad-Bissessar-led administration under then Finance Minister Larry Howai and had been waived from 2009 to present.

The minister said the purpose of the Secondary Road and Rehabilitation Company was to bridge the gap between the corporations and his ministry, as there were some roads which were not under the control of either entity.

Al-Rawi noted that the schedule of the rollout of the Bill had been shared at a public consultation for local government entities on August 9 which had been boycotted by all UNC-controlled corporations. He said they were not informed in writing of the results of the public consultation.