THE WHITE Paper on Local Government Reform — which recommends that the term of life of local government be extended — was on Thursday accepted and approved by Cabinet, sources said yesterday.
As such, the White Paper is expected to be laid in Parliament in coming weeks, raising further questions over the timing of a local government election. Cabinet approval of the White Paper is viewed in some quarters as increasing the likelihood of a postponement.
It is understood that the White Paper proposes that the term of local government be increased from three years to four years. This would require an amendment of Section 11 of the Municipal Corporations Act.
The White Paper also calls for increases in the pay of local government officials, amendment of governing legislation to make officials full-time and a re-think of how funds are distributed across corporations.
Though the life of the local government term came to an end in July, it remains open to MPs to pass legislation which prolongs the mandatory three-month period by which an election is due. The three-month period could be extended, by way of a simple amendment to the Municipal Corporations Act, as happened in 1995 and 2002. Legal sources said a simple bill could call for Section 11 (4) of the Act to be amended via the insertion of a new Section 11 (4D) which would read, “Notwithstanding subsection (4A), for the purposes only of the elections due in the year 2002, under this section, such election shall be held within one year of the expiry of the terms of office of the Councillors and Aldermen comprising the Council.” The White Paper approved by Cabinet is the end result of months of consultation exercises conducted by the Ministry of Local Government.
Newsday also reported yesterday that the Parliament is yet to approve a key 2011 report of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) which deals with the boundaries of the corporations. The EBC’s Seventh Report on Local Government, which was submitted to the Ministry of Local Government on July 3, 2011, has not yet been debated or approved by the House of Representatives.
Section 4(3) of the EBC (Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly) Act calls for the report to be laid in the House of Representatives for approval “as soon as” the EBC has submitted a report. It is understood that the report was not tabled in Parliament but was instead referred to the Ministry of the Attorney General.
It is understood also that the 2011 report recommends changes to the boundaries of two corporations: Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo and Princes Town, as well as 39 district boundaries. While the COP and PNM have largely completed the screening process for candidates, the UNC is yet to begin the screening process, even as the clock ticks.
“Nominations are open and screening will begin shortly,” Ameen said this week in response to a query from Newsday. “Plenty of nominations are in already. Nominations will close after the local government election is announced.”
At a UNC national executive council meeting, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced an intention to appoint a new minister of Local Government, shifting that portfolio away from Dr Suruj Rambachan, the Minister of Works.
Some UNC members last Wednesday called for the election to be postponed, but no decision was taken on the matter, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said.
Currently, the Local Government Elections are due by end of October.