RISHI ND TRIPATHI
THE GOVERNMENT’S attitude and disdain toward local government, the system and its practitioners, is a philosophy and mindset deeply entrenched within the People’s National Movement (PNM).
After eight years of this current incarnation, the PNM now more than ever is a party of the elites. In other words, a “big boy party.” From the $100 million Balisier House reconstruction which is allegedly sponsored and lavish events at the Diplomatic Centre to regional and local golf soirees and multi-million-dollar macro projects, nothing has resonated with the common man nor improved their life either by means of jobs, small contracts or, simply, an improvement in one’s social ease.
The ministers and their policies, contractors' projects, elections, are all macro, but nothing for the everyday citizen. I do, however, recall, not so long ago, a prime minister (2010-2015) who governed for all…from laptops to baby grants, sporting facilities to hospitals, everyone benefitted.
Local government is one area that touches and concerns every citizen of this country. From garbage collection to internal community services, municipal police, minor road repairs, recreational facility maintenance...and the list goes on.
The PNM has treated this crucial pillar of our governance system as its bastard child from inception. It was a PNM government that refused to call local elections between 2003-2010.
It took a UNC-led partnership government under Kamla Persad-Bissessar to call local government elections in 2010, soon after assuming office, respecting the institution and a citizen’s right to choose their representative.
The Hazel Manning White Paper on Local Government Reform, 2009, titled “Embracing-All,” in the context of the Vision 2020 charge towards sustainable local communities, robust participative democracy and regional planning and development has been a convenient football of the PNM’s parliamentary arguments.
However, it is noteworthy that to date the spirit and intent of that document has not been applied to our current system and its proposed reform, despite it being far more advanced than what was brought to the Parliament in 2021. In fact, the UNC has paid more respect and homage to this report than the very party of former minister Hazel Manning.
The Government’s idea of crucial local government reform at present is to apply borough status to Siparia and Diego Martin, which adds no value other than a name change. We have grown accustomed and weary of this type of window dressing. We are not fooled by these superficial pieces of legislation, a downright insult to the intellect of our citizens.
Further, after the recent ruling at the Privy Council in the Ravi Balgobin Maharaj v The Cabinet of TT case, we have witnessed many startling developments, such as the Government's lack of understanding of the role of a superior court of record, freedom of the press and free speech versus "contempt," and now the Prime Minister’s continued lack of regard for the local government system.
PM Rowley could have easily come to Parliament on May 24 and announced a date for the local government election after making his lengthy parliamentary statement. Instead we heard more damage control from the fallout of losing at the Privy Council.
The date remains elusive and in the back pocket or golf bag of the Prime Minister and hundreds of practitioners in the local government system must continue their wait without knowing their current status, an unenviable position.
The need for constitutional protection of the local government system is glaring. Moral suasion is the enemy of the PNM and if not for the Privy Council God alone knows the type of outlandish and outrageous constitutional dilemmas that may have been on our doorstep.
It is a fundamental right of the citizen to participate in the electoral process, whether it be local government or central government. We must not allow governments bordering on dictatorial rule to dangle elections over our heads. It is demeaning to our democracy and the freedom that our forefathers toiled for.
I have noted the continued constitutional overstepping, the breaches in our separation of powers, the attempt to remove jury trials from our system and now the lack of respect for our local government system with great concern. Tyranny does not occur overnight. Stay vigilant, TT.
Rishi ND Tripathi is an attorney and former temporary opposition senator