The Opposition declares its support for Progressive Reforms in any regard and especially that which can improve the functioning of Local Government. We believe that local government corporations must be empowered, and we agree with moving forward with reform of local government.
However, it is our view that the legislation can be much enhanced should the Bill be referred for the consideration of a JSC. There are several areas of concern and for improvement including:
a) the Bill is a complex one which seeks to amend nine pieces of legislation and therefore should not be rushed;
b) the Bill provides for the insertion of the Minister of Finance to take control of setting the remuneration of Mayors, Aldermen and Councillors. We do not believe that a politician should be given discretionary power to set the salaries of his political opponents;
c) the Bill fails to address the thorny issue of equality of representation and equality of the vote – the Government intends to continue a system which allows some councillors to represent as few as 2,500 voters while requiring other councillors to represent more than 12,000 voters;
d) there is no provision for a tie-breaker- we witnessed the undemocratic situation in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation in the last local government election where the PNM improperly seized power of the corporation by allowing the former chairman to be the presiding officer;
e) the provision for local government councils to be collectors of property tax on residential properties only will create a dual collection system which could result in confusion/chaos as for example where one property is used both for residential purposes as well as commercial purposes and/or agricultural purposes. This common where many homes are used to conduct small businesses such shops and parlours etc;
f) no provision for constitutional protection as for example has been done with respect to the Tobago House of Assembly
The Government has continued its haphazard approach to legislation with the Local Government Reform Bill. Despite having every local government representative waiting for three years for this Bill, the Rowley Government is now coming to rush this critical piece of legislation.
For these and other reasons, we call for the Bill to be referred for consideration by a JSC.