At the national level, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago seem primarily concerned with issues like
corruption and crime. At the local government level, however, their main concern is drains.
For 41 weeks, the Sunday Express ran a series called MP Monitor.
Reporters interviewed people in all the constituencies of Trinidad and Tobago about their concerns and, where possible, spoke to the Members of the House of Representatives as well.
This closing article summarises
the findings from that series.
The most common complaint constituents have about their MP is that they don't see them. "We don't see (MP) at all" and "We never see (MP) since the election" were typical remarks. But most of the MPs say that they are in their constituency offices at least one day for the week. Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon, who some constituents thought was a man and who lives in Westmoorings, told the Monitor, "I am in Point Fortin at least once a week. But there are times that I am in Point Fortin at least three times a week. And the office is open as well, from Monday to Friday."
Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner, with his reputation as the hardest-working politician, sees his constituents (as well as people who are not from his area) every other Saturday at his office on Caroni Savannah Road, from 7 a.m. to midnight. But other MPs apparently spend even more time meeting with citizens. Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Collin Partap sees constituents from 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Saturday at his main constituency office in Sangre Grande and at the sub office in Biche. Arouca/Maloney MP Alicia Hospedales seems to devote the most time of all MPs to meet-the-people exercises: she told the Monitor that she holds four days of walkabouts weekly, each three to four hours long, sees residents on Thursdays at the office in Cane Farm from 12.30 p.m. to 3 p.m., then heads to the main constituency office in Arouca to see more people from 3.30 p.m. to as late as 9 p.m.
As for the number of visits, D'abadie/O'Meara MP Anil Roberts told the Monitor that he sees between 95 to115 people every Tuesday at his constituency office which is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. He added, "I can tell you that I have sent over 3,600 letters from the MP of D'abadie/O'Meara to the Minister of Housing." This would mean that Roberts has been writing about six letters daily on this issue alone, unless by "I" he also meant his office staff of 11 people. It would also mean that every Tuesday meeting with a constituent lasts an average of five minutes.
Even so, if people aren't seeing their MP, it seems to be mainly because they have made no effort to do so. As Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial pointed out, "I have a constituency office. I am there every Tuesday. I have a Facebook page. My e-mail is accessible to everybody. My numbers are available."
While the Monitor series was by no measure a scientific survey of how well or badly the country's MPs are doing, the results were nearly half and half – just over 50 per cent got a negative rating and just under half got a good rating, with a few getting mixed reviews. Interestingly, however, more of the Opposition MPs got a positive rating than the Government ones: in the latter case, over 60 per cent got a poor rating from their constituents. But this may have more to do with expectations from MPs who are in government rather than actual performance. And Government MPs and Opposition MPs had different explanations for their shortcomings.
"The thing is, when you are in Opposition, the resources are not as easily accessible," said La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey, while Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial said, "I hold office in a constituency that has been neglected for the past five years. As you know, it is a UNC stronghold. PNM was in power for the past five years and they did not do much in the constituency." Roberts took the same tack but on exactly the opposite premise: D'Abadie/O'Meara had suffered years of neglect under the former PNM government, he claimed. "It was in a total mess," said Roberts.
So Opposition MPs argue that they can't get things done because they are out of Government, while Government MPs say that they are trying to fix years of neglect caused by the other administration. Box 1 lists, in descending order, the problems which most constituents complain to MPs about.
Other common issues which came up in the Monitor series were specific to certain constituencies. In San Fernando West, MP Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan had complaints about King's Wharf and the market. In Tunapuna, MP Winston Dookeran, complained vendors, wasn't improving the market facilities. The MPs who were interviewed generally boasted about five to ten projects which they had completed or were doing to improve their constituencies.
But constituencies have different levels of development, which means that MPs have different levels of challenges. In T&T, administrative areas and constituencies do not correspond, but Table 1 gives a rough guide to which MPs are responsible for which regions. Measures such as life expectancy, per capita household income, and chronic illness have been used to estimate the overall development of the regions. According to the T&T Human Development Atlas 2012, Sangre Grande and Princes Town have higher incidence and intensity of poverty, while San Fernando and Tobago have the lowest. Sangre Grande, which had the highest absolute number of poor persons, also had the highest Adolescent Fertility Rate at 75 per 1,000 women. Penal/Debe had the lowest at 29 per 1,000 women. The region with the lowest Female Labour Force Participation Rates was Princes Town, while the highest was Tobago. Arima had a relatively high rate of child mortality and persons affected by poor nutrition.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's constituency, Siparia, had the highest percentage of persons who hadn't completed five years of schooling and households where at least one child wasn't enrolled in school. This constituency also had many persons with a low standard of living – i.e. living in homes with dirt floors, no electricity, no running water, or inadequate sanitation.
And, since all MPs are not created equal, how did the leaders fare? Between Persad-Bissessar (Siparia), Keith Rowley (Diego Martin West), Prakash Ramadhar (St Augustine), Winston Dookeran (Tunapuna) and Patrick Manning, only one political leader got a positive rating: even after his defeat in the 2010 election and his stroke, Mr Manning is still highly rated by his constituents.