OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for local government elections to be enshrined in the Constitution to prevent it being postponed.
She was contributing to debate on The Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Bill 2019 in the House on Wednesday.
She said this country has a poor track record in holding local government elections and the worst was from 2003-2010 when it was postponed three time via a simple majority bill. Persad-Bissessar said every government except PNM has held local government elections on time except for 1990 and the NAR due to the coup and major reforms of the Act. She pointed out local government elections is nowhere in the Constitution and if the Parliament is serious about it then it should be given constitutional protection.
Persad-Bissessar advised that just as in 1980 Tobago House of Assembly elections was placed in the Constitution under Chapter 11(a) there should be a Chapter 11(b) for local government elections.
“So you cannot come every year and bring a simple majority bill and say ‘we not having it.’ It has happened time and time again in TT.”
She pointed out the bill seeks to extend the terms of councillors from three years to four years but this should not extend the time of present councillors but be implemented after local government elections which must be held within three months of November 28.
She said the current administration is run by four or five powerful ministers and the rest are “top desk ministers.” She added this was reflected in legislation including this bill where the finance minister has been inserted and can set salaries. She questioned why this was not placed under the Chief Personnel Officer or the Salaries Review Commission. “Why is a politician going to set the salaries and so on of other politicians.”
She said the finance minister will also be able to determine project priorities and this could lead to possible political discrimination and victimisation.
She pointed out the bill allows the corporation to employ its own staff and decide who to hire or fire and this could potentially lead to political abuse and victimisation.
“If you are in a totally Opposition controlled corporation what’s going to happen? Are they going to fire you because you from the other party? If you in a total PNM corporation what’s going to happen? That is rife for abuse.”