Persad-Bissessar: Where is local government reform?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar – Lincoln Holder

AS mayors, chairmen and aldermen were sworn in across the country on Wednesday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar warned that any attempt to make changes to the local government law now in effect would be a constitutional breach.

Persad-Bissessar, who attended the swearing-in ceremony for mayor, deputy mayor and aldermen at the newly minted Siparia Borough, asked where was the local government reform touted by the PNM during the lead-up to the elections on August 14.

She said Government’s campaign on reform was nothing more than a “fairytale.”

In reference to promises to make councillors full-time, she said the relevant law was not in effect.

“Local government reform, where is it?” she asked after Doodnath Mayrhoo and Shankar Teelucksingh were sworn in as mayor and deputy mayor.

“Persons are being sworn in all across the country today. Whatever the law is today, it remains the law for the next four years.

“You sign up for the ‘wuk’ on an existing set of terms and conditions. You cannot come tomorrow to change it.

“They talked about having full-time councillors. Nothing is further from the truth. Nothing is in the law for full-time councillors. It was a fairytale. They were fooling people.

“If you come now to proclaim any piece of the law to make these people full-time, it would be a serious constitution breach, because people would now have to go and resign from their jobs, they will have to give up property.

“Breach of constitutional rights. That cannot happen.”

She claimed out of everything in the local government law, the only thing proclaimed was to postpone the election for a year.

In April, the Privy Council, in a majority decision, ruled against Government’s decision to postpone the election by a year after it was challenged by opposition activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Persad-Bissessar asked, “So where is local government reform? Is it ever going to come?

“I doubt it.”

She also expressed serious concerns about the conduct of the August 14 local elections, insisting there were many irregularities.

She also questioned the impartiality of chief elections officer of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Fern Narcis-Scope.

“I want to ask Fern Narcis-Scope whether she is still a registered, card-carrying member of the PNM.”

Persad-Bissessar vowed, “We continue to light up the EBC. It is very important we have a democratic, fair, open and transparent EBC to protect the democracy of TT.

“We will continue to light up the EBC from now until the general elections are called. It is too important an institution to be tarnished with matters related to bias, and if not actual bias, what the lawyers call bias in any case.

“We have very serious concerns.”