Is local government being ‘starved’?

THE INTERVENTION by Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds, the Port of Spain Corporation and the Ministry of Works in the situation involving the collapse of Abraham Lane in Laventille is just the latest matter involving badly fraying infrastructure to come to the fore in recent weeks.

All over the country, roads are falling apart, sometimes buckling under the strain of weather conditions. Holes have appeared everywhere: from a large sinkhole in Beetham Gardens to smaller, but equally troublesome holes in Glencoe.

In addition to potholes, major roads linking vital infrastructure, such as that housed on Cumberland Hill, are literally being washed away, while agencies demur over who is responsible for what.

Is all of this disintegration simply the result of ongoing weather patterns? Or is something else at play?

UNC MP Khadijah Ameen on Sunday suggested funding may be playing a role.

“The government over the past few years has been withholding the release of funds so that even though the corporations were allocated a certain amount, the government would report a savings when in truth they had not released the money,” she said.

Ms Ameen’s claim is not new. Annually, there are complaints about local bodies being “starved” of resources. Even PNM constituencies make similar claims.

Chairman of the PNM-controlled Diego Martin Regional Corporation Sigler Jack recently said his team was prepared to deal with the ongoing bad weather, but limited resources were an issue.

But according to the Report of the Auditor General on Public Accounts for the last two years, while full allocations were not exhausted last year, this was on par with reduced state expenditure across the board.

And though actual expenditure in some corporations decreased marginally, spending levels remained roughly the same overall. In some cases, more was actually spent.

For example, actual expenditure in Point Fortin reportedly rose from $63 million in 2019 to $70 million in 2020; in Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo from $98 million to $102 million; in Siparia from $74 million to $79 million.

However, Ms Ameen’s claim has the merit of pointing to the perception of the arbitrary nature by which funding is allocated at regional corporations. This is bound up with the perennial issue of poor accounting practices.

Whatever the amounts allocated, local government bodies have a notoriously bad record when it comes to saying just what exactly was done with funds, with many auditors general flagging numerous issues under successive governments.

How are funding needs apportioned and is that system working?

Is co-ordination between state agencies working as it should? And are local government bodies accounting for what they do with state funds appropriately?

In addition to repairing collapsed roads, these are the long-term issues that require attention.

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