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Statement by Dr. Suruj Rambachan on Local Government

The following are the notes of MP Surujrattan Rambachan ( Shadow Minister of Local Government for the UNC) which were used to deliver his remarks at the Consultation in Siparia.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT TRANSFORMATION — PUBLIC CONSULTATION AT SIPARIA

1. Local democracy and local governance with the power, authority and resources to construct their communities to their liking is at the heart of successful local government.

2. The alienation which people now feel and the lack of commitment to nation building, the psychological distance which is evident between those who govern and those who are governed can be resolved through an enlightened participatory consensus driven local government system leading to the paradigm of self determination that is essential for this country to push forward. We are not far off from a voter revolt similar to that which is happening in the US at this time. For a long time now our people have wanted a deeper level of participation in determining the kind of future which they want for themselves and their children. We have an opportunity to avert a crisis of citizen revolt and as well apathy if local govt could be so reconfigured as to have more people involved in the affairs of local governance.

3. The problems of local govt are as much constitutional and legislative as it is about competent human resources including the quality of CEO’s, resource allocation both material and financial, visionary Mayors and Corporation Councillors, enforcement of the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act, relationships with civil society and the business community through shared vision, local stakeholders’ representation on a wider number of committees and accountability, proper remuneration for Councillors and supervision towards higher productivity and efficiency.

4. Legislative changes and constitutional protection by themselves are not going to give you better local govt. If the truth be told we have a good Municipal Corporation Act 21 (1990) but it is not properly enforced. In this latter regard there should be established a Municipal Corporation Court to deal with matters between Burgesses and the Corporations. People laugh at local government when you send them a letter for breaches. They find every way to frustrate the system and after four years it appears that the state becomes impotent. The system for enforcement of municipal laws must be strengthened. On the other hand the system can work if you have committed employees. The Litter Wardens at The Chagunaas Borough Corporation during my stint as Mayor had many persons convicted in Court. In the matter of enforcement the penalties must be increased.

5. The efficiency and effectiveness of local govt has a lot to do with the Ministry of Local Govt and the attitude of people at that level to the Corporations. I had a great deal of difficulty in getting a cultural shift and had to mandate it. What is needed is an application of process flow charting to the activities of local govt to demolish the number of bureaucratic layers which are required in decision making. Why for example it is only after six months of this fiscal year are corporations only now putting out advertisements for tenders for development projects. In 2012 when I had the opportunity to be Minister of Local Govt we worked the system to ensure that DP projects were ready to tender even before they budget was read and commitments were made within eight weeks after the budget was read thus facilitating in that year almost 100% completion of DP projects in the specified financial year. The systems for doing business and an attitude on the part of officials at the Ministry must change. You cannot have people not coming to work for a week and no one including the Head of Department, the Permanent Secretary or at the Corporation, the CEO not being able to get things done in that person’s absence.

6. Productivity and value for money must be addressed. If workers in Health have to work six hours why are they working three at a maximum under the eyes of supervisors and CEO’s. Have you ever calculated how much such wasted manpower and equipment hours are costing the taxpayers? This is due to poor planning, poor work scheduling, poor project management skills and decadent supervision. Yes, equipment and resources are problematic but corporations despite being allocated trained engineers do not have or where there is one do not follow a preventative maintenance program for vehicles. Why must trucks which should be working for eight hours for the day be parked up by midday.

7. In the matter of resource availability the MOLG should reopen its quarries and also mine its own oil sand for assisting persons in self-help programs. If these quarries are made available and corporations pool their equipment a lot of material can be supplied to communities. This can be done in a short space of time.

8. I am for more powers to Mayors and Chairmen. I am not too sure whether this means Executive Chairmen and Mayors but at this time I see no way out of the dilemma which Mayors, Chairmen and Councils face in term of implementation without having some level of direct management responsibility. I believe that if the route of Executive Chairmen is pursued then there has to be adequate checks and balances against the abuse of authority.

9. There has to be a greater degree of training for local government personnel. Local government is in my view a special kind of governance and with the changes envisaged a proper technical and academic background will be necessary. While I held the post of Minister we had redesigned a degree in Local Govt at the University of the West Indies. The UWI had presented a degree to us which was a smattering of their social science subjects, and a few management subjects but did not attack the needs of a local govt practitioner. The degree was redesigned. We had started a case writing program with the Lok Jack School of Business. I do not know what has happened to that. I know that we had agreed to pay $60,000 for the first three cases. The point I am making is that transformation will require a new type of person and also existing persons who are willing to make a shift in how they think and behave.

10. Customer Service is far short from what it should be. Great customer service is a function of many inputs but it is also highly influenced by leaders who display a customer centric attitude. When CEO”s are not on the job at 8.00 am as they should be or the PS at the reporting time what do you expect the employees to do. The generality of people follow the examples set by the leaders and this is endemic in local govt.

11. A lot was promised to the empowerment of local govt with respect to the planning and Facilitation of Development Bill. What has happened to this progressive piece of legislation. Is it going to be suspended since this appears to be a new way of governing TT. Do you know how long it is now taking to have a plan passed before construction can start between the time the application goes to T&C and then through Local Health and the Corporations? We are stifling the economy and construction by the long delays in approvals. In addition there are tin gods in several of the building inspectors’ departments who can create hell for you if they offered to draw your plan and someone else did it.

12. I will like to point out a related matter. On the pages of the newspapers people are selling non T&C approved lands . In fact in some areas as many as twenty lots are advertised. The social and economic issues which arise from such activity eventually falls on the shoulders of local govt. There must be some laws which forbid this as well as local govt should not allow people to build houses where there are no approvals nor infrastructure. The seller goes home with his cash but the local govt body has many a problem on its hands after that.

13. I agree that local taxes must be retained for local development projects but I also strongly believe that there has to be a review of the formula for allocation of resources from the budget to local bodies. In your transformation are local govt bodies going to be guaranteed a percentage of the budget like the THA. What is the formula that is going to be used and will this formula be available for public discourse and discussion.

14. I understand that there are talks about reducing the functions of local govt by removing those aspects involving secondary road development and maintenance. I don’t agree with this because I do believe that the Corporations should be strengthened to carry out a more effective program relating to secondary roads.

15. Organization Structure – What will be the nature of the new org structure? What new positions will be created. I will like to suggest that while an Engineer is specified as one of the professional officers that this person be a Civil Engineer with at least five years of experience in Project Management. A thorough review should be done of the quality of Planning Officers now at the Corporations.

16. I have a problem with the quality of medical doctors at the corporations. I do not believe that their role and functions are well specified and I am also of the view that for some of them this is a joy ride job. What do they do? What are their powers? Do they work as if they are in a full time job? What is their relationship with the PHI’s and PHO’s? Do they prepare an annual plan for the corporation to deal with health issues? Do they hold education seminars? Are they involved in the food monitoring exercise? Do they monitor persons selling food for hygiene and diseases etc? I am of the view that the ability to get a food badge is too easy and for 60 dollars you can get a medical examination that amounts to very little. What is the role of the medical officers?

17. Public Health Officers. At the moment it is my understanding that while these persons have been trained they are limited in their ability to function with the full backing of the law. This should be corrected since we had given 50 scholarships to Costaat for persons to be trained. It is no good having trained officers without legal authority to act in the interest of public health.

18. I do not agree that they MOLG should be scrapped and made a dept/division of the Ministry of Finance. It is too important a function to be subsumed in the Min of Finance. To do so demonstrates a very informal and limited understanding of what local govt is all about and the importance of local govt in community development.

19. A greater opportunity for community/civic/social/ports/religious groups to play a part in local govt affairs is required. Expansion of committees beyond the statutory committees to reflect important aspects of community development. Eg business, sports, domestic tourism and the environment. Right now these committees as they are organized are a farce. Elected youths in local govt structure between ages 18 to 25 in corporations as well as a person with specific responsibility for women and children (gender affairs).

20. I propose that we should have full time local government councillors who are properly remunerated including travelling allowances and tax concessions for vehicles. Under the UNC/PP Councillors were given offices and at least one staff member.

21. The commitment to construct proper Town Halls in all the regions must be made a priority. The only new Town Hall to be constructed in the last three decades was at Chaguanas.

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