LICKS TOO IN T'DAD
By SEAN DOUGLAS AND MIRANDA LA ROSE Monday, September 30 2013
WITH Nomination Day today for the October 21 Local Government polls, the country’s two main Opposition parties yesterday held their “Presentation of Candidates” rallies — the People’s National Movement (PNM) launching in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, and the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) in Chaguanas — while the ruling People’s Partnership (PP) coalition will launch its slate tonight in San Fernando, under Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The PNM rally was addressed by PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley, and PNM PRO Faris Al-Rawi, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) head, Orville London, while ILP leader and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner was due to give the lead speech at the ILP rally.
Rowley built on the earlier speeches of London and Imbert to suggest that Tobago is a model for Trinidad to follow in two ways respectively — by voters using October 21 to vote against the PP, and by giving THA-styled powers to Trinidad’s local councils plus their own tax-collection powers.
He spoke for 45 minutes, in a seemingly curtailed speech, before a lively crowd.
Rowley said upon taking over a demoralised party in 2010 he had called on its youngsters to take up responsibilities, and they had done so last January in the THA election and were now doing so in the upcoming Trinidad polls where many young people are candidates.
Basking in the PNM’s 12-nil win in Tobago, Rowley said, “Trinidad, it’s your turn now.” He said the Trinidadian electorate has long waited patiently for an Election Day to use to register their response to the issues of Reshmi Ramnarine, Section 34, crime and the largest Cabinet ever.
“On October 21 we’ll deal with that,” Rowley urged voters. “They are holding on now for dear life.”
Scoffing at the fighting between the United National Congress (UNC) and ILP, Rowley dubbed them “peas in a pod” whose threats to “buss mark” on each other if provoked by the other made them “a mutual protection society”.
Rowley said since TT’s first Prime Minister, the late Dr Eric Williams, had brought the THA Act of 1980, such local-level empowerment has worked well in Tobago and must now be given to Trinidad’s local corporations.
“We can dramatically improve the quality of life for people in Trinidad,” said Rowley, citing Tobago’s cleanliness and their preservation of the Governor’s Building which had it been located in Trinidad would have long rotted away.
Every health-centre and school in Tobago is properly maintained, due to the THA having executive authority and a steady stream of its own revenue.
Councils such as Diego Martin would leap light years ahead with their own tax collection, said Rowley, noting that the present land/building tax roll is incomplete and so ineffective in tax collection. Schools would be better maintained by local councils than by the Educational Facilities Company Limited (EFCL).
Rowley said if the PNM wins the local polls it will cooperate with the PP Government on local government reform, although noting no response so far to his proposal for each corporation to have a 100-person constabulary.
Rowley hit the Congress of the People (COP) as “dead”, and said in Diego Martin the UNC and COP had fought like cats and dogs for three years, leading to inaction in flood-prevention. Alleging tardiness on the deal on the Loran-Manatee gas-field, Rowley accused the Government of squandering the goodwill generated within the Venezuela government by the former PNM regime which had sent oil during a coup attempt against former President, the late Hugo Chavez.
The new powers planned for local government were earlier explained by Imbert.
They will be given autonomy to manage their own budgets and award contracts to fix and maintain schools under a new PNM administration.
“The first thing we pledge in our manifesto,” said Imbert, “is that we will give local government bodies a dedicated source of finance similar to what is done in Tobago.” Funds will be given in quarterly tranches as is done in Tobago, he said.
The local authorities will have authority, Imbert said, to enter into contracts as they see fit, subject to tender rules and procurement guidelines that would be approved by the Parliament.
A new PNM administration, he said, “will remove all the red tape and bureaucracy that prevent local government bodies from carrying out their work effectively and efficiently.”
The role of the Minister of Local Government, he said “will be reduced to just monitoring, oversight and evaluation.”
A new PNM administration will also amend the Local Government Act to allow local bodies to collect all taxes such as land and building taxes, tickets, fines under the road and traffic act, Imbert said noting that at present all taxes go to the Consolidated Fund.
Giving them the authority to collect taxes, he said will give them a ready source of income and they will not have to wait on Central Government for releases, especially when one party is in government and another is in a local authority.
A new PNM administration, he said, will give local government bodies executive authority as the THA enjoys.
“At present,” he said “Corporations are ineffective because decisions are centralised which makes them counter productive.”
Another plan that will be instituted, he said will be to give the corporations the right to award contracts to contractors from within their local authority, to repair and maintain schools. In this way, he said parents and teachers will not have to protest at the opening of each new school year.
In addition, he said employment will be created locally and skills developed.
“No longer will a contractor from deep South come to repair a school in Diego Martin,” he said.
With the new powers given to the local authorities, he said, will come accountability and transparency to ensure integrity in the tender process.
In relation to the municipal police, he said their role will be redefined to assist the Police Service in areas such as traffic management and traffic violations. This will free up the Police Service to deal with other criminal activities.
According to Imbert, local government reform will borrow much of what exists and works in the THA for local government bodies in Trinidad.
THA Chief Secretary Orville London, who took the stage after Imbert, urged supporters to reject the other parties to contest the local government elections.
The complete sweep of all the seats by the PNM in the THA elections, London said indicates “the kind of licking (the others competing in the upcoming local Government elections) will get.” Saying the PP had lost in its THA campaign led by Warner, Rowley said voters now have even more reason to reject the PP as it is now divided, with Warner’s defection. “In Tobago, we say ‘when fish come out of the sea and tell you ‘shark there’, stay away!” said London. “The situation gets worse now because the shark is coming out of the sea and telling you, “shark there!”.
Describing Warner, Persad-Bissessar and Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal as sharks, he said they are now swimming in the shark-infested sea.
When Warner says that under collective responsibility corruption has become institutionalised, he said, “Believe him. He’s a shark.”
When Persad-Bissessar says that Warner cannot travel because of corruption, he said, “Believe her,” and when Moonilal says that he has bombs to drop about Warner, “Believe him.”