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Sensible suggestions by minister
The Minister of Local Government did not specifically lament some of the Government’s choices of councillors at Tuesday’s launch of local government reform consultations, but he did make some sensible suggestions that might improve performance in the sector.
The issue of Local Government reform has been one of the political issues that has managed to evade the attention of all governments over the last decade, despite a general acceptance that the delivery of Government services at the community level is in desperate need of overhaul. With his background in professional planning and management, Dr Rambachan must be bristling with ideas on how to improve a civil bureaucracy that’s meant to be the effective contact of political governance with the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
David Abdulah, leader of the Movement for Social Justice agreed with the Local Government Minister that the people placed in roles of responsibility in local government were partisan and not professional choices. Candidates for local government, Mr Abdulah said, should come from communities, not political parties. In a Sunday Guardian interview in December 2012, Dr Rambachan saw the councillor’s role as full-time employment, not a part-time job.
Such a change might ensure that councillors are more fully engaged with their communities, but it might also create unnecessary make-work jobs that would further bog down an already intimidatingly stifling bureaucracy. Between 2006 and 2009, the PNM Government failed to hold local government elections in the name of reforms that never came, leaving elected councillors in place for almost eight years.
It isn’t just citizens complaining about the slow and spotty delivery of services by local government agencies. Jack Warner, still the Works and Transport Minister in April 2012, threw metaphorical hands in the air at the Frederick Settlement Community Centre, unable to understand why regional bodies could not employ people to get works done. “It doesn’t make sense,” Mr Warner told the assembled constituents of Caroni, “I don’t understand why the funding is so low.”
Mr Warner too, in the grip of frustration with the slow implementation of projects by the regional body, called for people to be elected to their local government roles on the basis of hard work, not name or party affiliation.
But saying these things and making them happen has stymied successive governments. Changing local government from an undeclared system of reward for party supporters into an agency that’s focused on the efficient and transparent delivery of government services is a notion that’s been discussed, but not acted on for almost a decade now.
The creation of a hierarchy of professional local government officers who provide continuity of service, are hired and promoted on clearly articulated and accountably managed systems of merit, and are rewarded for prompt and efficient delivery of these critical services is the next obvious evolution of existing systems. Local government is where the wheels of political purpose meets the road of citizen reality. Creating more efficient traction will, inevitably, reward any party in power.
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