Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles – Photo by Sureash Cholai
ACTING director of the Planning Ministry’s Town and Country Planning Division Kerry Pariag says there is a “critical staff shortage” in his division.
In fact, he said there has not been an increase in its manpower contingent since 1969.
He was speaking at the hearing of a joint select committee of Parliament on land and physical infrastructure on Wednesday.
Pariag said there is a “high volume of matters” in the division and “the nation has been moving apace” for decades, despite this continued staff shortage.
“Our ability to monitor is something to speak to, and again, is a shared responsibility with many other agencies. But my division is constrained by a contingent of 12 to deal with unauthorised development across the entire nation.”
He said there are other constraints, including a tedious complaint and enforcement process.
“Because this process culminates to a matter in the Magistrates Court, it requires a robust investigation in the first instance, but more importantly, knowledge of the owner of the land on which the unauthorised development is taking place.”
He said the division usually relies on the ministry’s legal services unit to handle most of those investigations.
“Where the division is unable to find any info as it would relate to the owner of the land, we would normally be unable to carry forward any action.”
But there is also the option to use an external search clerk.
“But given the volume of matters that are brought to our attention, funding becomes an issue, specifically later in the financial year.”
In addition, Pariag said unauthorised developments on state lands are also “a little problematic.
“How I was trained, the State would not normally take the State to court. Therefore, we investigate the matters…determine its legitimacy and refer the matter to the relevant agency that may or may not be able to act,
“At that point of referral, I am generally unable to speak to the ability of these other agencies to execute their mandate…”
Acting deputy permanent secretary of the Planning Ministry Meera Ramesar said interviews for an assistant director and other positions were held recently and the ministry is awaiting a response from the service commissions department.
“I do acknowledge that the contingent of staff that Mr Pariag would like still may not be filled when those positions are filled. But we are trying to assist Mr Pariag in that way.
“While the Town and Country Division staff will go out and monitor sites, it would be very difficult for them to monitor the entire Trinidad and Tobago. So what we rely on as well is feedback and complaints from the public.”
She said once people are willing to do that, it will bring more issues to their attention.