Councillors cannot perform if they have no resources for projects.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar made the statement as she slammed Government for apparently starving UNC-led corporations of resources.
Speaking at a UNC meeting held at Gasparillo Secondary School on Tuesday, Persad-Bissessar said there was an urban bias in resource distribution.
“Corporations being starved for resources and under this Government...there has been deliberate starvation of Opposition controlled corporations of funds,” she said.
The situation is so bad that in September 2018, some local government councillors were evicted from their offices because they could not pay their rent,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“The chairmen of four regional corporations under the UNC said delays by the Ministry of Finance in releasing recurring expenditure to regional corporations over the past financial year is hampering the operations of several regionals bodies since they are unable to pay for goods and services or carry out projects,” she added.
While the Opposition welcomed local government reform, Persad- Bissessar said there were flaws in the bill laid in Parliament last May.
“When we examined the bill, we found a number of issues. We believe that Local Government corporations must be empowered, and we agree with moving forward with the reform of local government. However, we believe there must be true reform of the local government system,” she said.
Saying the bill should not be rushed, Persad-Bissessar said the bill provides for the insertion of the Minister of Finance to take control of setting the remuneration of mayors, aldermen and councillors.
“ We do not believe that a politician should be given discretionary power to set the salaries of his political opponents. The bill fails to address the thorny issue of equality of representation and equality of the vote - the Government intends to continue a system which allows some councillors to represent as few as 2,500 voters while requiring other councillors to represent more than 12,000 voters” she said.
The Opposition Leader said there is no provision for a tie-breaker.
“We witnessed the undemocratic situation in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation in the last Local Government election where the PNM improperly seized the power of the corporation by allowing the former chairman to be the presiding officer,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar also contended that the provision for Local Government councils to be collectors of property tax on residential properties only will create a dual collection system which could result in confusion.
“There is no provision for Constitutional protection as for example has been done with respect to the Tobago House of Assembly,” she added.
She noted that the Local Government Bill sought to extend the councillor positions to full time and set up the corporations to start receiving Property Tax contributions which would entail new training and positions.
“Perhaps properly resourcing the corporations over the last four years would have a more ideal solution. These changes should have been introduced in phases as opposed to a complete overhaul,” she said.
To guarantee equal voting power, Persad-Bissessar said the distribution of seats must be reviewed at least every ten years, preferably outside election periods.
“This will remove the disproportionate electoral representation that currently exists that has traditionally been based on a preference for urban areas over rural areas,” she added.
She contended that this urban bias has resulted in rural areas being deprived of adequate resources to service those communities.