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Wednesday 29 January 2020
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Beyond the ballot

BY EARLY today we should know quite definitively which parties and individuals were successful in yesterday’s local government elections and should have a clearer idea of who our representatives will be at the municipal level. The campaign over, it’s time to focus on getting the work done.

Though there will likely be close scrutiny of the election process and the campaign in coming days in several forums, it’s clear that there is now an overriding imperative on all of the political parties to cast their differences aside and put service of the people first.

In this regard, the pressing matter of local government reform looms large.

The intensity of the campaigning may well have reflected a belief from political operatives that the local government elections would be a likely barometer of national sentiment ahead of a general election constitutionally due in a few months’ time. It would be a shame, however, if that were the fullest extent of the interest in local governance matters.

There’s a lot of work to be done on the local government front. We hope the attention paid to this campaign will now translate into a more enduring engagement with the matters that affect the cities, boroughs, municipalities, and districts that were the venues of such high-energy lobbying of the citizenry.

The campaign, aside from its unsavoury distractions, personal attacks and race-baiting, saw some key issues flagged, such as the relationship between the Ministry of Works and local government processes; the need for better data collection at the local government level; the use of state resources for political gain at the level of local government outreach; as well as questions about urban planning and renewal with two parties even sparring on the issue of the extent of the existence of latrine pits in Port of Spain.

Directly or indirectly, these issues have drawn attention to the wide range of issues that concern local government systems and how much work needs to be done to bring better clarity and efficiency to them.

Local government needs to receive the respect and resources it deserves. Such must be one of the overriding considerations of the ongoing proceedings of the parliamentary committee tasked with reconsidering the current local governance legislation.

An issue that has reportedly been flagged by key officials is the arrangement concerning the selection of aldermen. Additionally, the matters relating to the Elections and Boundaries Commission’s handling of special ballots – however resolved – point to the need for greater consideration of the fine points of the election laws.

The local government system involves the expenditure of millions in treasury funds and is designed to provide immediate oversight, through open and representative decision-making, in relation to matters that directly affect residents of specific locales. It is a key point of contact for regulations relating to public order, health, and security.

Now that the razzmatazz is over, it’s time for our representatives to go beyond the ballot.

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