Do away with aldermen
The Government, having by dint of its numbers, secured passage of the Municipal Corporations (Amendment ) Bill by the House of Representatives has now placed it on its way to the Senate.
The fundamental provisions of the amendment are:
(1) To increase the number of aldermen to be placed on regional corporations;
(2) To change the present method whereby aldermen are “selected” by the majority vote of councillors who would have been elected at the immediately preceding local government elections;
(3) To “select” aldermen based on a system of proportional representation, such “selection” reflecting the proportion of votes which political parties would have received at the local government elections.
For a proper evaluation of the changes being proposed, it is necessary to have in mind the purpose, historically, of having aldermen “selected” for service on local government bodies. It is clear these men and women were “selected” not so much on merit and ability, but rather to represent certain identifiable entrenched interests.
Thus, it could not be envisaged that the Port of Spain Corporation would not be a haven for merchants and other groups who did business in the city. However, with the rise of the political party system, at all levels of government, aldermen were to become, in effect, the nominees of political parties. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to say the present system allows for nomination as aldermen, party activists and functionaries who have no wish to face the electorate.
It is clear the system now being proposed, is but an entrenchment of the present system whereby aldermen are “nominated”, the major difference being that the names of nominees are to be submitted and made known to the electorate prior to the election rather than ‘after the fact’.
This writer has supported the introduction of a system of proportional representation at local government elections, based on the assumption that this system would engender greater participation and interest in local affairs generally.
Indeed, in commenting on the January 2013 Tobago House of Assembly election, I directed attention to the “clean sweep” of 12-0 by the PNM through use of the first-past-the post system, a result which would have been transformed into 7-4-1 had a direct “P-R” system been used.
In the current imbroglio, I part company with the changes being proposed as I am of the view that moving towards genuine democracy demands abolition of any system which is not based on open-merited criteria. For this reason I propose the following:
(a) complete abolition of the position of alderman;
(b) an increase in the membership of regional corporations in order to permit greater service delivery and,
(c) use of a “straight” system of proportional representation in the election of all councillors.
Errol OC Cupid