Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Maybe the best way to assess this question is first to go back to basics. What are the responsibilities of a Regional or City Council? Basically, the local Council looks after things like the state of the roads, the sidewalks, the garbage collection, the regulation and placement of the markets, traffic regulation and parking. To do all of this the Council needs money. Most of its money comes from subventions handed out by the central Government. If the Council is starved of funds from the central Government it will not be able to carry out its functions in either a timely or efficient manner. And therein lies the rub!

Many councils have complained from time to time that they were being denied funding from the central Government because they happen to be controlled by the political party that formed the opposition. In other words, the central authority was using its power of the purse to punish the region/city/borough for having the temerity to vote against the ruling party of the day. While most of these type of complaints have come (with considerable justification) from the then UNC controlled Councils, the truth is that when the UNC was in power similar complaints were heard from the then opposition controlled PNM Councils. In other words, though both sides vehemently deny ever indulging in this type of behaviour the truth is that there are far too many complaints not to believe that there is a lot of fire behind this particular smoke.

So, what can be done? It is clear that the present system can be manipulated by a Government in power. Heck! The elections can even be postponed indefinitely ... a fact that we are all too painfully aware, though I don't think that any other Government abused this power as much as the recent Manning regime did. This system needs improving, but short of giving the Councils the right to raise taxes in thier own districts ... something that I certainly wouldn't support ... and fixing a date (e.g. the first Monday inSeptember of every third year), I really can't see a viable solution to these problems.

In thinking about the problem and possible solutions I also thought about the fact that we really are a very small little country of approximately one and a half million souls and a total land area that is probably maller than Greater Miami. So why do we need Local Government? What would happen if we were to abolish it completely? Well, if we did that it's fairly obvious that we would have to replace it with something else. So ... what?

Answer: why don't we do just that ... abolish all local authorities (including the Tobago House of Assembly). There are 41 constituencies. We could divide each consituency, say, in two so we would have then 82 districts. Each district would be represented by a Representative (or as they are called in the United States - Congressmen). The lower House of Parliament, the House of Representatives would be made up of these 82 men and women. They would be elected on a fixed date(say, the first of September) for 2 years only. They would be full time Representatives and have responsibility in their district for all the functions and activities currently carried on by the local authority.

But 2 years is a very short time, and the upper House would have to have a longer time. So our Senators would no longer be appointed but would be elected ... from the 41 constituencies ... for a perod of 6 years and on a fixed date (the same date as elections are held for the lower House). But we would have one third of the Senate being elected every two years. Then we would have an elected President elected every 4 years. His cabinet would be appointed, but every appointment would have to be approved by the Senate.

And yes, it is basically the American system. Do I like everything about the American system? No. There are things that I definitely do not agree with, e.g., the fact that their judges face the electorate. But there is a lot to admire in the way that they set up their system. And it would work a lot better for us than the Westminster system does. Incidentally, one of the big attractions for me is that a U.S. type President wields a lot less power inside his own country than a T&T type Prime Minister has in his ... but that is another story! What I want to discuss here is how can we improve Local Government. What are your ideas?

1 comment:

  1. Rather than creating a new level of politics and bureaucracy, what about "proportional representation" at a financial level for local government, i.e., take a proportion of the national budget. Divide it by the population. Each council gets their per capita spending multiplied by the number of heads in the region. This would not only encourage a lot more focus on getting correct population statistics, but it would remove any questions of political influence. One might argue that sparsely populated councils will get less to handle, e.g., more per-capita miles of road, but then, why does the Ministry of Works and Transport exist if not to see about that? Just a thought..