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Local Government poll

GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, June 2 2010

click on pic to zoom in
FIRST DAY ON THE JOB: Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner (middle row, right) and his deputy Rudranath Indarsingh (at Warner's right) are greeted...
FIRST DAY ON THE JOB: Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner (middle row, right) and his deputy Rudranath Indarsingh (at Warner's right) are greeted...

With the somewhat early General Election now history the electoral focus will now be on the oft postponed Local Government Elections which former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had earlier signalled would be held in October of this year.

While the delay in the holding of Local Government Elections has been the subject of much discussion, nonetheless the postponement of the elections in order to effect needed reform is not without precedent.

It would perhaps be recalled by Trinidadians and Tobagonians, interested in electoral reform, that there had been a seven-year gap in the holding of then County Council Elections during the period 1946 to 1953, while the 1946 County Council Ordinance was being revised.The subsequent County Councils Ordinance No. 39 of 1952 was regarded as a landmark which would not be comprehensively amended until some 30 years later.

The long awaited changes to the Local Government structure are expected to produce a significant administrative devolution. In the process, Local Government Corporations — Regional, City and Borough — will probably have greater powers for the raising of revenue to finance their operations in designated areas.

While the previous Administration had insisted that the holding of Local Government Elections would have been programmed for this year, no such announcement has been made by the new Government which came into Office following on the May 24 General Election which saw a routing of the People’s National Movement (PNM) 29 to 12.

This is understandable, however, as the new People’s Partnership Administration has only been in power a little more than a week. It is possible though that an announcement with respect to the holding of Local Government Elections, if not the month, but this year or whenever, would be made either in the “Throne Speech” or early in the life of the new Parliament.

It would be interesting to see what new powers, including those of revenue raising, are granted to the Local Government Corporations. In addition, whether there would be a reduction in the number of Local Government Corporations. Will the People’s Partnership Government create a system of Departments for the several Corporations, for example, roads, health, agriculture (where applicable), sport and urban and rural development. Admittedly, some of these areas are, more or less, already under their authority.

If earlier, I emphasised the idea of expanded revenue earning powers for the local administrations, a principle which was advanced by the last Government, it was not only to reduce the need of having to go to the Central Government for funds, but to provide them with a greater sense of dignity. Perhaps I should point out at this stage, to avoid any confusion, that Local Government is not limited to former County Councils, but embrace City and Borough Corporations as well.

Local Government reform is another crucial phase in the overall development of Trinidad and Tobago. Ideally, a meaningfully revamped Local Government system would see the relevant Corporations as places to which political parties can turn to recruit a not insubstantial number of candidates for service both in the House of Representatives and the Upper House.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most powerful figure to emerge out of the reformed County Councils in 1953 was Mr. E. F. “Bertie” Shurland, who many at the time thought would have gone on to serve in the historic 1956-61 Legislative Council. Although Mr. Shurland did not achieve this he, nevertheless, had the distinction of being the first Chairman of the County Councils Association, following on the granting of executive authority to the County Councils.

Until the national unification of the water and electricity services under the Central Water Distribution Authority (CWDA) and the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission respectively, the Port-of-Spain City Corporation was responsible, for example, for its electricity services through the Port-of-Spain Corporation Electricity Board. Additionally, the then San Fernando Borough Council had its own power station on Carib Street, and was responsible also for the supply of water to residents of the Borough. Expanding national demand and cost effectiveness would later see the centralisation of these services. But I have strayed.

Government may view an early date for the Local Government Elections as capitalising on the momentum gained in the General Election. At the same time a revitalised People’s National Movement may see an October, 2010 Election as an opportunity to demonstrate it is on the rebound, under new leadership, and seek to embrace the chance both to maintain its present lead in Local Government Corporations and, possibly, to expand it.

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