IN demonstrating the need for regional corporations to sacrifice and prioritise spending, Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein reported that at his office, when it rains, he has to use a bucket to collect the water.
He was speaking Tuesday as the Standing Finance Committee examined regional corporations including Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo and Mayaro/Rio Claro.
St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen asked about the decrease in the allocation for contract employment and if this meant some people who are currently employed will not have their contracts renewed.
Hosein replied that corporations will have to review the contracts to see what they need.
"Everything is about priority now. You must prioritise."
Ameen asked about the reduction in other contracted services and noted it was necessary to address flooding, which also damages roads.
Hosein said: "The faster we come to reality and start prioritising, the better. This country is now what it used to be a couple years ago. We have to prioritise. And we will be in this position for the entire year."
Ameen stressed the opposition members understood the country's financial situation and were not asking about funding for entertainment or luxury items, but for basic necessities.
Hosein replied: "When rain falls in my office I have to put buckets. I have pigeons living in the roof.
"It is a sacrifice we have to make. And I understand the point you are trying to make. But there is a time for everything. You just have to make the sacrifice. It is not about politics, it is not about UNC or PNM corporations. It is about sacrifice."
Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes asked about the $2 million allocated for disaster management and Hosein said it was for outstanding payments, equipment, training and implementation of a community flood early warning system.
Haynes said: "You are stretching that $2 million very far, Mr Minister."
Hosein replied: "That is what we have to do this year."
Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram asked about the reduction in the allocation for materials, and stressed that in these corporations the roads are very bad.
Hosein replied: "The answer to the question is local government reform. Residential taxes will be spent back into the community. The people in the community will then see what they want.
"We are trying to get away from property tax, but it is essential for local government. Jump high, jump low, local government reform is going to be here under this Government."
Chairman Bridgid Annisette-George intervened and said she would not allow a discussion on local government reform.
Ratiram asked about short-term employment at Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, saying there has been a consistent decline in the allocation for corporations.
"With this covid situation, a lot of people are unemployed. They have been sent home. A lot of them will go to their MP's office seeking short-term employment."
He described the reduced allocation as a "significant disservice" to citizens.
He also asked about $400,000 for the repair of state traces and local roads. He said this allocation would be very challenging and asked if the minister would give the corporations approval to tap into the unspent balances.
Hosein replied that once the use is stated for the unspent balances and it is audited, he does not hesitate to sign off on it.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the law had changed from restricting unspent balances to being spent only on property to now being spent on anything the corporation required, including healthcare and garbage collection.
Ratiram asked in a case where there is a backlog of audited figures, if the corporations could still access the unspent balances without audited figures.
Hosein replied: "For transparency, I would prefer that it is audited. You can't use it to have a party in the corporation. It must be for the people."