The new system of local government, triggered by the introduction of proportional representation, is creating some confusion.
This is because the deadlines and time-frames for getting corporations up and running, which were set out in the previous Municipal Corporations Act, have been removed.
This situation, coupled with the deadlock in Chaguanas, led to the postponement of the swearing-in ceremony for councillors for the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, which was originally scheduled for Friday.
The ceremony has been temporarily called off as the Ministry of Local Government seeks legal advice on the deadlock in that corporation.
There is no time frame for the first meeting of the councils under the new municipal corporation law. The law simply requires that the business at that first meeting includes the taking of the oath of office of the councillors.
There is also no time frame under the new law for the declaration of the aldermen by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). The law simply says that such persons take the oath after the declaration is made.
PNM general secretary Ashton Ford told the Express yesterday that on Monday, the party’s representatives had received invitations for a Friday swearing-in ceremony. But, he said, the party was informed yesterday this was to be rescheduled and an apology given for the postponement.
Previous Chaguanas mayor Orlando Nagessar confirmed that the CEO of the Chaguanas Corporation had “temporarily” set aside Friday for the swearing-in of the eight councillors.
“But they are awaiting word from the Ministry of Local Government. I believe they (the Ministry) have sought legal advice on how to handle the situation. So they are waiting on that. Furthermore, they have not yet received results from the EBC (for the list of aldermen). Up to this afternoon (at 3 p.m.) the CEO told me that the results from the EBC have not been received.”
He said, hopefully, there would be results today and there would therefore be some idea of when the councillors would be sworn in, as well as when the Council could meet to elect a mayor and a deputy mayor.
The Chaguanas Corporation is spit between the PNM, UNC and ILP, with each party having four members on the Corporation once it is fully constituted.
Legal sources have explained that if no mayor is elected, the current mayor (Nagessar) stays in office until the deadlock is broken.
Nagessar laughed when told that after saying goodbye to the Corporation, he may be there for the “long haul”.
“That is in the act.”
He said he hoped there is a solution (to the impasse) so that the new corporation can continue the work of the last corporation.
It is understood that the Ministry of Local Government is seeking advice from senior counsel Dana Seetahal on the options for dealing with the deadlock in Chaguanas.
Seetahal, when contacted by the Express, said she could not provide any information.
“It would be for the client to disclose anything. I could not possibly disclose anything like that,” she said.
Commenting on the matter, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said he did not know what they are doing down in Chaguanas.
Responding to the legal position that the current mayor of Chaguanas (Nagessar) would stay in office until a new mayor is elected, Rowley said: “This development is the Government trying to run the corporation in a permanent deadlock arrangement.”
He said the Government is expecting deadlock because Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar came out early before realising that the ILP would get two aldermen (and tie with the UNC and PNM) and committed her party to not negotiating with ILP leader Jack Warner.
Rowley cited statements by Persad-Bissessar that she would not negotiate with any party that supports criminals.
“The UNC is in a monkey pants—either vote for itself and create deadlock or vote for the PNM.”
On Warner’s call for a return to the polls for the electoral districts comprising the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, Rowley said there is no provision for dissolving a local government corporation. There is only provision for the chamber expiring.
There are swearing-in ceremonies for the councillors in Diego Martin and San Fernando today.
The councillors in the Arima Corporation would be sworn in on Friday, Sangre Grande tomorrow, while Point Fortin Corporation was installed last week. And there is no word on when the other corporations would be inducted.
Rowley said under the old municipal corporation act, within ten days after the election, a meeting of the new council is convened and, at that meeting, the councillors take the oath and then proceed to elect the aldermen.
It was a straightforward process with one ceremony, Rowley stated. The mayor and deputy mayors, chairmen and deputy chairmen were elected three days after this meeting.
However, the new act says on the election of the councillors, the EBC shall allocate the number of aldermen for each party on each corporation and then inform the political party of this allocation. This must be done within four days after the election.
The parties then have four days after being informed by the EBC, to notify the EBC which persons from the parties’ list submitted on Nomination Day have been selected as aldermen. The deadline for this process was yesterday.
When the EBC receives this information, the Commission then declares these persons to be aldermen and that declaration constitutes their appointment. But there is no deadline for when this declaration must be made.
But there is nothing to prevent corporations from swearing-in councillors, before the aldermen are allocated and declared by the EBC. But they would have to await the EBC declaration for the swearing-in of aldermen.
“So tomorrow, Diego Martin is swearing-in their councillors, but there is nothing in hand saying the aldermen are available because the aldermen are coming from the EBC. And until the aldermen and councillors are added together, you can’t elect a chairman of the corporation. So the swearing in ceremony is simply the swearing in of councillors as proof of having been elected. But that does not complete the council. You have to wait now for the EBC to complete the process by giving you the aldermen,” Rowley stated.
When the EBC confirms the names of the aldermen, then the second function, at which aldermen are inducted and mayors/chairmen elected, must be held.
While there is no time frame for the swearing in of councillors and aldermen, there is a time frame for the election of the mayor and deputy mayors.