MSJ Demands Local Government Reform
In less than two weeks there will be two by-elections for local government seats. These by-elections in Barataria and Belmont East are being held in the context of the failure of the Dr. Rowley led PNM government to fulfill its oft repeated promise of Local Government reform. In announcing that the MSJ will not contest these by elections, we identified the reason as being the fact that with one year to go before the end of the life of the Regional Corporations there was little that any one Councillor could achieve given that the Corporations have so little power under the present system. We then committed to highlight the demand that there be progressive reform of Local Government. We are keeping that commitment.
We note that the demand for reform of Local Government reform was earlier this week the subject of an Editorial in the Trinidad Express and that the Editorial made the same point of the broken promises of reform and the lack of power of the Corporations and Councillors. The Editorial stated “It is a pity given that, in theory, local government is the point at which government is closest to the people and vice-versa. However, until Local Government acquires real political power, the electorate’s interest in who represents them at this level will remain lukewarm at best. In response to this open alienation between people and power at the community level, it has become routine on the campaign trail for political parties to promise greater decentralization and real devolution of power to local government bodies as part of their campaign for national office. Within the past decade alone, every government has promised local government reform although none has yet delivered…”
The MSJ goes further. Neither the UNC nor the PNM has delivered at any time during their holding the reins of power! These two parties have totally failed to deliver on the promise of Local Government reform:
The Panday UNC in 1999 produced a White Paper on Local Government Reform – no subsequent reform;
The Persad-Bissessar UNC in 2015 produced a White Paper on Local Government Reform – no subsequent reform;
The Chambers PNM in 1983 produced a White Paper on Local Government Reform – no subsequent reform;
The Manning PNM in 2004 produced a White Paper (which was then downgraded to a Green Paper) on Local Government Reform – no subsequent reform;
The Manning PNM in 2009 produced a White Paper on Local Government Reform – no subsequent reform;
Between the PNM and the UNC there have been no fewer than five White Papers on Local Government Reform. Not one of them resulted in any reform! This is proof that neither the PNM nor the UNC have the slightest interest in changing the relations of political power by reducing the power of Central Government and putting more power in the hands of Local Government and communities. Regardless of who leads the PNM and the UNC the culture of those parties is to keep power in the hands of Central Government – it is the culture of maximum power to maximum leaders. Different leaders, same story!
This abject failure is being played out once again by the PNM, this time led by Dr. Rowley. The PNM in its 2015 General Elections Manifesto promised major local government reform. In 2016 they started a process of public consultations in the lead up to the 2016 Local Government Elections. A Draft Policy on “Transitioning Local Government” was produced in October 2016. In that election campaign they used the slogan “Reform that is Real”. To date that reform is as real as the green man on the moon.
As the Express stated in its Editorial “In 2016, then local government minister and People’s National Movement chairman, Franklin Khan, kicked off his party’s local government campaign declaring the PNM’s reform plan to be ready: ‘It is real and it will happen. Just as night follows day, local government reform is going to happen this time’, he said, promising that the relevant legislation would reach Parliament in the first half of last year. Alas, when the time came in May last year, Minister Stuart Young pushed the timetable to the end of last year. The public is still waiting”
In the face of this total failure all the Prime Minister can say is that he is “disappointed”. If the Government of which he is the leader was truly serious about reform of local government, it would have happened. The MSJ also wonders if the failure to follow up on the process initiated by Minister Khan is a reflection of his lack of power in the Cabinet. It is notable that in his current position of Minister of Energy, Mr. Khan seems to be sidelined in key negotiations with multinational energy companies and with the Government of Venezuela, with Minister Stuart Young leading these talks.
The failure of local government reform is a failure of political leadership. The MSJ is of the view that this failure of leadership, the absence of leaders in the PNM and UNC to offer a vision for Trinidad and Tobago, now requires the citizens to reject both these parties. The MSJ is prepared to offer real leadership to take the country out of the mess that we are in and this we will do in the Elections for Local Government Corporations in 2019. Our proposals for reform of local government has been carefully thought out and has been consistently articulated since 2013 and is part of our Policy Document on transforming Governance by “putting power in the hands of people where they live”.