Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why sudden rush for reform?

It is truly amazing that Cabinet has accepted and approved a recommendation contained in the White Paper on Local Government Reform that the term of life of local government be extended, yet two weeks ago the Government stated it was considering a request from United National Congress (UNC) councillors to postpone the elections. No mention of any White Paper on the horizon.

This from a Government that has been dragging its feet for more than three years on the reintroduction of the property tax, the collection of which the minister promised would be passed on to local authorities by January 2013.

There is no mention in the Policy on Local Government Transformation and Modernisation document that the term of local government be increased from three years to four years nor was it mentioned at the consultation I attended.

For over two years the Government has delayed taking action in Parliament to approve a key July 2011 report of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) which deals with the boundaries of the corporations but this has found its way in the White Paper and is being cited as another reason for wanting to postpone the local elections.

Local government has been reduced to collectors of garbage and exterminators of insects because most of their functions have been farmed out to CEPEP, UPR, CISL, RDC or done by the Ministry.

Top of the list of reforms should be proportional representation so that every vote cast should count as there can be no real democratic local governance, community involvement and local democracy if at the first point citizens are denied representation. Imagine 38 per cent of the voters in Tobago have no voice in the THA and the same could very well be the case in Trinidad.

The right of recall is one of the most ridiculous ideas ever envisaged because there is no workable system anywhere in the world to implement it and every Monday morning some elected official could be facing the polls. The Indians tried it once and dropped it like a hot potato. The major hurdle is who would be eligible to exercise that right. Would it be anyone in the electoral area; only those who voted for the representative, would ‘no votes be counted’; would the recalled representative be allowed to contest again etc.? The system of having one half of representatives being required to face the polls mid-term is a more viable option as happens in some countries.

Term limits is another system that should be avoided. Let the people decide when it is time to get rid of their MP, councillor or Prime Minister. The US and Guyana lost their best presidents (Bill Clinton and Bharrat Jagdeo) at great cost through this constitutional proviso.

Why the sudden panic? T&T has been trying to reform Local Government since 1962 without much success. In any event at best this latest attempt will not happen for at least another three years.

Jim Jhinkoo

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