IN THEORY, the Municipal Corporations Act sets up a hierarchy of local governance. There are cities, boroughs and regional corporations.
In practice, though, it is hard to see the difference.
Consider expenditure levels.
While the Port of Spain City Corporation is given the highest slice ($222.8 million for 2020) of the $1.5 billion local government pie, “ordinary” corporations like San Juan/Laventille ($157.1 million) and Tunapuna/Piarco ($157.2 million) are next in line.
The San Fernando City Corporation, and the boroughs of Arima, Point Fortin and Chaguanas all individually have lower expenditure demands. Higher status, therefore, does not translate into higher service. Or does it?
On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced two regional corporations – Diego Martin and Siparia – will become boroughs.
In so doing, Dr Rowley suggested the rationale is to address the demands of the population of Diego Martin and a specific desire on the part of the current administrators of its regional corporation.
“The corporation has already agreed and has advanced to the Cabinet that it wants Diego Martin to become the next borough,” Dr Rowley said.
He shed no light on the details of any of this. Nor did he state his rationale for throwing Siparia into the mix.
Is this local government reform by vaps?
There are certainly symbolic, if not substantive, differences afforded by designating an area a borough.
Boroughs have mayors. Mayors call and chair corporation meetings, have powers to set up and control a special mayor’s fund, serve as justices of the peace, and lead regional co-ordination committees that include a range of stakeholders not limited to the local government system.
Still it is worth asking: what is the advantage for the people who live in boroughs, other than being called burgesses? Do they have more autonomy?
Incidentally, Dr Rowley’s announcement came amid continued scrutiny of the role of local government in keeping urban spaces clean, given his own designation of a street in the capital city as a “toilet.”
But not only is the provenance of this proposal unclear – the People’s National Movement (PNM) made no mention of it in its 2015 and 2020 general election manifestos – but the tacking-on of another regional corporation feels more like a hollow political concession than a meaningful reform.
This is more so given Dr Rowley’s timing of his announcement as some sort of response to Opposition grumbles about lopsided regional planning.
If indeed there is a desire for more people to have a voice through greater representation, then it stands to reason these measures should be part of a nationwide conversation, whatever the legal entitlements of the Cabinet to make changes unilaterally.
Otherwise, it is all gallery.