Local Government reform bill'Give up private jobs, work as full-time mayors'
Candidates contesting upcoming Local Government elections will have to be prepared to give up their jobs if they win their seats since proposed Local Government reform legislation—being debated Wednesday—demands full-time mayor and councillors.
Mayors and councillors are not currently full-time and they only receive a stipend, Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein confirmed last Friday.
Under the proposed law to be debated in Parliament, future mayors and councillors will have to be on the job full-time. He added that they'll be receiving a salary—remuneration which will have to be approved by the Finance Minister.
The 11-clause bill requires a simple majority vote for passage and can be passed by Government votes alone.
The bill, known as the act to amend the Municipal Corporations Act (2019), seeks to amend sections of the law pertaining to Local Government (LG) operations on all aspects—from posts, personnel, public health and sanitation to markets and dog control.
It also introduces new clauses on aspects including functions of a chief executive officer who will control corporations, the full-time posts for mayors, councillors, and aldermen and how taxes will be used to fund corporation operations.
Following reform, Local Government Ministry funds are expected to be supervised by the Finance Ministry, while Rural Development will spearhead corporation operations.
The law is expected to be in place for the next Local Government term. Elections are expected ahead since the current term ends November, with February 2021 being the outermost date polls can be held.
The LG reform bill, which Government aims at passing before the upcoming Parliamentary recess in two weeks, will be the springboard for activities. It will be debated as both the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) and Opposition United National Congress (UNC) close nomination processes for LG nominees and turn to launch screening.
The PNM's deadline for submission is Friday and screening begins around July 6.
PNM general secretary Foster Cummings added yesterday, "After that, we continue screening daily. We aim to complete by the end of August. Screening starts with nominees for Sangre Grande corporation, San Fernando, Siparia, and Point Fortin."
The UNC had about 400 nominees (including for general polls). Officials said LG nominations are closed and screening is expected soon.
In the 2016 LG polls, the PNM won 83 of the 137 seats in the 14 corporations, while the UNC netted 54.
The PNM is "confident" about obtaining more than the seven of the 14 councils the party now controls.
The UNC launched its LG campaign last month, reportedly "eyeing" eight of the 14 regional corporations and targeting Sangre Grande and Tunapuna/Piarco to add to its holdings. Party officials were quoted in May saying incumbents want to contest again. Mayaro corporation chairman Glen Ram, who was charged (subsequent to that) had submitted a nomination before being charged. UNC executive officials could not confirm yesterday that this nomination was withdrawn.
The LG reform bill has come to reality after a number of years and several administrations.
Hosein added, "It's the first time reform is being presented after being discussed for years. I've liaised with Opposition councillors and I think everyone wants this. It's a format which will revolutionise Local Government."
Opposition voices concern
But the Opposition has already voiced concerns about some aspects and will be expanding arguments in Wednesday's debate, says UNC MP Suruj Rambachan.
Rambachan said, "We've already expressed concern about certain clauses proposing the Local Government term be extended from three years to four and we're still concerned whether this will be used to postpone upcoming polls and extend the current term.
"But another concern is the Finance Minister's role in supervising finances for corporations who'll now get their money from him as proposed. You can't have effective Local Government if you lack resources. Poor resources have traditionally been Local Government's blight. One has to ensure the playing field is levelled if reform is to succeed.
"Proposals for mayors and councillors to be full-time will also require their remuneration packages to be lucrative. This change will challenge people regarding commitment to service."
Other UNC officials expressed concern on proposed wider powers for CEOs, as it was felt this could allow a CEO to shut down a council regardless of a mayor's position.
Local Govt reform bill proposals include:
• “Chief Executive Officer” replaces references to “City Clerk or Town Clerk”.
• Councillor's term to be varied from the current three to four years.
• Aldermen will serve four years.
• Variation of the requirement for a person to be an alderman by requiring an alderman to be a person who qualifies to be a councillor.
• Finance Minister would determine the remuneration/allowances for mayor, aldermen, councillors and the word “honorarium” (stipend) wherever mentioned will be replaced by “remuneration”.
• Removal of the requirement for a councillor to have his/her qualifying property situated in the electoral area but in an electoral district other than the electoral district for which he/she seeks to be a candidate.
• Disqualification of a person from being a councillor where he/she's been convicted of an offence carrying a penalty of five years-plus.
• Chief executive officer has responsibility for municipal corporation's daily operation. All chief officers and staff reporting directly to the chief executive officer of that corporation.
• Corporations will have a municipal council (similar to Cabinet) and executive council (similar to city council).
• Executive council will be subject to the ombudsman.
• Repeal of the subsection providing that for corporations other than cities and boroughs at least one alderman be elected from persons who are members of a village or community council within a municipality.
• A deputy mayor will act in the stead of a mayor who dies/resigns/is removed/disqualified, until a new mayor is elected, rather than succeeding to the office of mayor automatically.
• The council will appoint an alderman or councillor as deputy mayor where the mayor is acting as deputy mayor. Such a person would hold office until the date the deputy mayor ceases to act as a mayor.
• Increase in the penalty from $4,000 to $10,000 four for a qualified person who is elected to corporation office and fails to accept the office by making and subscribing the required declaration within five days after notice of the election. The qualified person will be debarred from offering himself/herself from any further municipal elections.
• Where the municipal director of health/any medical/health officer believes a patient is suffering from an occupational disease contracted in any industrial establishment he shall within 48 hours notify the chief medical officer who shall send the notice to the chief inspector and facilitate inspection/examination, inquiry and taking of samples concerning premises.
• Provisions for each corporation Municipal Police Service as well as the Public Services Commission and Statutory Authorities Services Commission to appoint a sufficient number of commissioned officers, subordinate police officers, constables.
• Authorisation to the Board of Inland Revenue to forward taxpayers' information to the corporation and which would require them to keep such information confidential and which provides for the responsibility of the corporation to collect residential land-property taxes and to retain such taxes in its corporation fund.
• Empowerment by Finance Minister to approve the allocation of money to other purposes other than those to which such monies were allocated under this act.
• Reception of applications for the development of land within a municipality and determination whether they are simple/complex developments. Where the municipal corporation determines the development is complex it would refer application to the Planning Minister.
• Increased penalties for violation of in Dog Control Act, including increased jail terms up to nine months plus fines up to $5,000.
• Finance Minister may order if agricultural, industrial or commercial taxes may be collected by municipal corporations and what percentages retained.
Source: http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/local-go ... f723c9b35d