Port of Spain oblivious to local government reform

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Traffic jam on Frederick Street, Port of Spain. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

People in Port of Spain were unaware of the implications of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Act, 2022, when Newsday sought their opinion on Monday and last week.

The act is scheduled to be partially proclaimed today.

A few people made comments, but most did not know about it, or were unwilling to comment.

Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al-Rawi spoke of the far-reaching consequences of the act on November 3.

The local government term has been extended from three years to four. The term should have expired on December 3 and elections would have been due by March 2023 – three months after the term’s expiration.

The Prime Minister now has the option to call local government elections this year, next year or as late as March 2024.

Additionally, the position of councillor will become a full-time job: previously it has been part-time.

Over the coming year, local government corporations will also directly benefit from the collection of property tax.

Al-Rawi said, “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.

“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.”

Newsday tried to speak last week with more than 30 people to determine how they felt about the bill’s implementation.

At least 20 were unable to comment, had not heard about it or heard about it in passing without understanding its effects. When asked, many said they don’t talk about politics or religion.

A second attempt on Monday was equally fruitless – few people were able to react or even knew of the change.

A group of eight Jehovah’s Witnesses in Woodford Square on Monday said their group never voted and were only concerned with the decisions of Jehovah.

Unlike most people surveyed, Surindra Persad, a heavy-equipment operator from Sangre Grande, had an opinion.

“I don’t know what them doing. As far as I see this government bringing this country like Cuba. They have no respect for nobody. I grow up voting every three years for local government.

“I fed up of them people. We close down a refinery to import fuel, we close down a sugar factory to import sugar. It mad. They ain’t correct. At least they could have keep one factory, and let the farmers form a co-operative. They doing madness. I want to have my rights. I was prepared to vote this year.”

Saleswoman Shinelle Pollard, 27, said the property tax would be “difficult on the people and them, because we have to wait so long, because if they not doing anything and we have to wait so long to come and say something and one more year they add on – that hard for the people and them, you understand. I find that hard for the people and them. The three years was okay because we could have still vote for somebody better.”

Cassanova La Pierre was in Woodford Square. His reaction to the property tax was abrasive.

“Why they coming home by me to get my money? Them councillors going on to be ministers and them does rob the money out the treasury. Anyhow you take it, we ain’t winning, so better they don’t come by my house for no money.

“Them is the same ones you does have to go for corporation work and they always telling you corporation full, but the streets always dirty. That doh make no sense.”

Two men at the National Library in Port of Spain said no matter how they voted, they don’t see any real change. The last time they voted there was a coup, they said. They described the current political situation as: “six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

A city corporation worker said reform has its pros and cons.

“It really comes down to the people in power at that time. Nothing is wrong with the extension of the term as long as it helps to get past all the bureaucracy and red tape in order to get things for the country.”