RURAL Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said the Privy Council acknowledged the efforts to undertake meaningful local government reform.
Al-Rawi made this observation in his contribution to debate on the Municipal Corporations (Extension of Terms of Office and Validation) Bill 2023 in the Senate on Wednesday.
In its judgment on May 18, the Privy Council said the extension of the life of local government bodies by a year was unlawful. Three of the council's five law lords held that view.
But not all five law lords deemed the extension a constitutional breach or that it deprived people of the right to vote.
Al-Rawi said the majority of the Privy Council indicated, "We are to accept that Parliament's intention was not to extend the life of incumbents."
He agreed with Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, SC, that the bill was the next step to be taken after the Privy Council's judgment.
Al-Rawi said there is another point about the bill which many people have missed.
Rejecting Opposition Senator Wade Mark's claim that the judgment will haunt the PNM, Al-Rawi said this is not so when only one part of the judgment favoured the UNC's claims.
"This law must be viewed in context."
He said in the judgment, the Privy Council acknowledged that Government was considering permanent changes to the Municipal Corporations Act "in the context of reform."
Al-Rawi said through amendments which Government has made to the Municipal Corporations Act, "we are asking for permanent reform to apply now."
The extension, he continued, would allow the local government reforms time to take effect."
The Opposition UNC did not want that.
Al-Rawi recalled that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar demanded last year to call elections first and implement local government reform after.
"You can't have your cake and eat it too."
Were local government elections to be held tomorrow, and the reform provisions not activated, Al-Rawi said, "By this judgment, it will not apply to councillors, aldermen and corporations comprised tomorrow morning."
He added, "You will have to wait four years for that (local government reform) to take effect."
Should Government heed Persad-Bissessar's advice, Al-Rawi said, no local government practitioner would benefit from the reform.
"The big point for the Government is getting reform right."
He said this meant amendments to the law to ensure the reform applies "to councils to be installed or whomever is in office, when the reforms are turned on."
Postponement of local government elections is not new.
Al-Rawi cited the postponement of these elections in 1990 under the NAR government.
He said Persad-Bissessar and many UNC members were part of that administration.
"So in the context of (local government reform) in 1990, it was okay to extend the life of a council to postpone local government elections for the bonafide purpose of reform."
Al-Rawi wondered what reason Persad-Bissessar and the UNC could use to justify their opposition to local government reform now.
He opined it was to spite UNC local government representatives and other members who were abandoning the party to join the PNM.