Jamarie John, 12, chats with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley following Conservations with the Prime Minister at Palo Seco Government Primary School on Friday night. – Lincoln Holder
THE Prime Minister confidently asserted that the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) operations stand as undeniable evidence of the effectiveness of the government’s proposed local government reform.
Dr Rowley emphasised the notable success achieved by the assembly, highlighting it as a persuasive indication that efforts toward reforming local governance can yield positive outcomes.
While referencing his initial involvement in the evolution of the THA in 1980, during a Conversations with the Prime Minister event in Palo Seco on Friday night, Rowley said there was a stark divergence of opinion within Tobago’s population for a Tobago assembly, similar to the present mixed reactions to Government’s local government reform.
The Government is planning to adopt a module, similar to the structure of the THA to enhance local-government operations.
He said the transformative move to replace the outdated Tobago county council, sparked passionate debates among the Tobago community about the need for a more effective and satisfying administrative body.
At the time, Rowley observed one group held the belief that the county council was not problematic and raised concerns about implementing changes.
Another faction argued that Tobago had the potential to experience enhanced governance at the local level through crucial modifications.
Reflecting on the substantial passage of time from when the THA was established in 1980 to the present, Rowley said it is evident that the local governance environment in Tobago has made significant strides forward.
He said, today Tobagonians proudly refer to the THA as the Tobago government, distinct from the national government.
“In the same way in 1980, there was a lot of conversation about the failure and the insufficiency of the Tobago county council as the government structure for Tobago. We are there now in Trinidad. In Trinidad, we have been saying for a very long time that local government is a problem because it is not providing the service that you require. So it’s more recognised for complaints as against discharge of responsibilities. The main reason for that is that it has evolved from the colonial days where the colonial masters would give you a little bit of authority but hold on to the rest to make sure that they were in charge so they give but they hold on to it.”
He added: “We are saying to you vote for local government reform …. Build local government, the more you build a management structure, the more efficient the management structure becomes, the more responsibility you can take on at the local level.
“We believe that that will contribute and redound to the benefit of all the citizens and you will see an improvement in the quality of your life. Where’s the proof of that? The proof of that is Tobago. The Tobago model has succeeded. I will tell you here that the quality of life at the district level is better in Tobago than it is in Trinidad because there’s a better management structure in place and the resources in Tobago are managed more directly.”
Rowley said local government reform encompasses the efficient management of backyards, streets, and districts, including crucial aspects such as health, insect control, rodent control, garbage collection, and overall cleanliness. The ultimate aim is to create healthy, connected, and comfortable living environments, where families, neighbours, and communities feel a sense of belonging.
He said local government extends its reach beyond an individual’s yard and house, encompassing all areas of interaction and daily activities that necessitate government intervention specific to each resident’s locality.
Additionally, the benefits to young people are certain.
Responding to questions about what opportunities will local government reform provide for young people in the Siparia borough, Rowley said, “There is nothing that identifies young people’s needs more than responding to the creation of opportunities and the modern local government reform has by necessity to have increase employment by jobs because we need more professional people if we are to deliver enhanced services.”
He said more workers in the accounting, legal; agriculture, entrepreneurs and labourers professions would be needed.
He said local government reform will not only hold councillors accountable but will also ensure long-standing issues within the communities as soon as possible.
“You don’t have to wait for somebody in Port of Spain to fix a toilet in Palo Seco that is what the evolution is about.”
“What we are hearing is a lot of requests being made of local government, sometimes it’s not local government responsibility and if it is local government responsibility they don’t have the resources and management structure to make full use of resources to servicing the burgesses. We are talking about reforming that.”