Local Government Corporations —including the People’s National Movement-controlled Diego Martin Regional Corporation—have come under fire from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
Defending the Government’s thrust for local government reform yesterday, Dr Rowley said corporations are not functioning effectively, noting that he himself almost lost his house two months ago because of a landslip that the Diego Martin Corporation could not fix.
Speaking at the opening of the refurbished $131 million Skinner Park, San Fernando facility, Rowley said local government meant “putting serious responsibility in the hands of local people.”
“This facility (Skinner Park) will eventually get fully in the hands of the city of San Fernando to be maintained, cleaned and protected by the people of San Fernando, and they will have the resources to do that from two sources - the taxes collected from the community and the allocation provided by the Central Government,” the Prime Minister said.
He questioned why detractors could not see the benefits of reform that will ultimately put more power in the hands of regional bodies.
“Why is there a problem with that? If you have a better model, let me know but one thing is sure, the existing model is not working. They have elections ever so ever and do the same thing, which is largely nothing,” he said.
Dr Rowley challenged citizens to see for themselves, the ineffectiveness of the various municipal and regional corporations.
“Go and call your corporation, anywhere you live. Penal/Debe don’t have gas to put in their vehicle so they can’t collect the garbage, but you are a corporation, with a mayor and a chain. Absolute rubbish. You go to Diego Martin and you call the Diego Martin Corporation to fix a pothole, and they say we don’t have any money,” Dr Rowley said.
He then revealed his own personal challenges with the Diego Martin Regional Corporation.
“I almost lost my whole house two months ago because the drain outside my house is broken. And the corporation can’t fix it because they haven’t got the sand and the cement. And the water came through from the drain, into my house and undermined my yard and I was just there in time to catch the landslide before it cut eight inches of separation in my yard,” he revealed.
Saying he eventually had to fix the problem himself, Dr Rowley said if the corporations had their own revenue, one of the areas that will be addressed by reform, this would be avoided.
“If a corporation has a revenue stream, it can always do more than if it was waiting for a handout for cash,” he said.
The Prime Minister further revealed: “We are going to Sangre Grande for local government reform to say to the people of Sangre Grande, it is ridiculous that you have a physical venue but you cannot cut the grass because your corporation doesn’t have the gas to put in equipment or don’t have the equipment. And the grass grows so tall that the people cannot use the park. Local government reform is going to put an end to that.”
He explained: “We are going to collect the Property Tax, small amounts from people, but it stays in the hands of the local government, so there will be no question of a park in a community where the grass grows undisturbed and the people can’t use it.”
Consultations on local government reform started in San Fernando on December 15, 2015, and the last consultation was completed on April 27, 2016, in the Diego Martin Regional Corporation.
In August 2016, Cabinet approved the Draft Policy on Local Government Reform.
In June last year, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Bill was passed without amendments. It involved changes to laws used in Local Government operations.
The bill also included a provision for regional corporations to collect residential property tax and retain it for their operations. The Ministry of Finance recently projected it will begin before December 31.