The Penal/Debe Regional Corporation joined the Siparia Regional Corporation and the Rio Claro Mayaro Regional Corporation when it lamented its inability to carry out its mandate to their burgesses.
With 40 per cent of residents living in the Penal/Debe region located in the Oropouche Basin, the corporation council said it is bracing for another year of heavy flooding as it is being starved of funds to carry out its operations.
Speaking at a media conference at the corporation’s office in Debe yesterday, chairman Dr Allen Sammy said that of the $82 million budget for fiscal 2019, $67 million was appropriated for recurrent expenditure such as salaries, rent and maintenance while $13.9 million was for its development programmes such as drainage projects, vehicle purchases and road repairs. Sammy said the corporation only received 54 per cent of the releases targeted for development projects and 77 per cent of its allocation for recurrent expenditure to date. With the fiscal term coming to an end in September, he said the Ministry of Finance does not release funds in the months of the budget. He said the corporation, which is desperate for funds, cannot afford to pay T&TEC and WASA the $2.1 million it owes for supplies to its facilities, $19,000 for vehicle maintenance and $43,000 to external water suppliers among others.
“Basic things like garbage collection, spraying, rat baiting, cleaning of drains, watercourse and so on. There is a tremendous inability to deliver on these basic goods and services because we are being starved of funds,” Sammy said.
Only on Tuesday evening, during the UNC’s meeting held at Gasparillo Secondary School political leader Kamla 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.
At its news conference yesterday the corporation said in June, it requested $199,992 to procure municipal police equipment, $290,679 for disaster preparedness and $539,985 for mayor vehicle and equipment. In March, it requested $367,000 for the development of Scott’s Road Recreation Ground and Bhupsingh Park; February, $500,0000 for the development of cemeteries and cremation facilities; in January, $270,000 to complete the Penal Fish Market Vendor Facility; in December 2018, $499,806 for its local government building programme and $299,996 for construction of public conveniences. Sammy said funds for these items are still outstanding.
For the past two years, the region has suffered from severe flooding during the dry season with hundreds of residents suffering losses.
Penal Councillor Shanti Boodram said although the Ministry of Works and Transport cleared some watercourses, there are much more outstanding. She said that floods have already begun and residents struggle to clean because of dry taps. Meanwhile, she said potholes continue to fill the roads.
Councillor Brian Julian said water from the street flows into a Barrackpore woman’s home and construction of a box drain is urgent. However, the PDRC cannot carry out the project because there are no funds.
The council believes that United National Congress-led corporations are being denied funds because the Government wants to campaign on the fact that the works were not done in the various electoral districts. Although some People’s National Movement-led corporations suffer the same issues with funding, they said the Ministry of Works and Transport steps in when necessary.
Sammy said that when he inquired from a long-standing local government worker about the state of funding for regional corporations, he was told it was the worst since the days of the National Alliance for Reconstruction government.
When contacted Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein, refused to comment about the allegations being made by the corporations about funding.
Meanwhile, while the Opposition leader said she 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.
(With reporting by RADHICA DE SILVA)