OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is pushing for constitutional protection for local government, similar to what obtains for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
Because provisions for local government elections are not entrenched in the Constitution, she said this is why a previous People’s National Movement (PNM) government could postpone local elections on three occasions.
Persad-Bissessar said her United National Congress (UNC) supports local government reform, but it must be progressive.
Speaking on a UNC platform in Gasparillo on Tuesday night, Persad-Bissessar said the Local Government Reform Bill, which is now before a joint select committee of the Parliament, must address several fundamental issues before the party gave its blessing.
She said it was a complex bill which sought to amend nine pieces of legislation and should not be rushed.
One of the provisions her party is seeking to have entrenched in law, she said, is a tiebreaker where parties win equal seats.
She recalled in the last local government elections, control of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation was given to the PNM, although the UNC won an equal number of seats.
In that instance the former chairman, Terry Rondon, cast the vote to break the deadlock.
Saying that was wrong, Persad-Bissessar advanced, “We must put in law how you break that tie, and in breaking that tie, it must not be the chairman from the last corporation who has the casting vote.”
She said TT could adopt the Jamaican model, where the party which gets the larger number of votes would have the casting vote.
“That is democracy, that is justice,” she said.
She said her party also rejected outright Government’s desire to insert the Minister of Finance to set remuneration for mayors, councillors and aldermen.
“We do not believe that a politician should be given discretionary power to set the salaries of his political opponents.”
Persad-Bissessar said, while the UNC shared the view that corporations must be empowered, the bill failed to address equality of representation, equality of the vote and equality of resources.
She explained that in some corporations, councillors had as few as 2,500 voters to serve, as is the case in the Point Fortin Borough. However, in the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Corporation, chairman Henry Awong had to look after 11,000 people in his electoral district.
She said that was what accounted for some people complaining they did not see their representatives.
In addition to the inequality of representation, she said corporations were starved of resources and not given adequate funding to match their size.
She referred to councillors being evicted from their offices because they could not pay their rent and reports from four chairmen in UNC-controlled corporations complaining about a lack of resources hampering their operations. The recurrent expenditure for Chaguanas Borough Corporation, she said, as well as the development programme, was slashed by almost $20 million in the last five years.