PNM companies share Al-Rawi’s ‘enthusiasm’ for local government reform, but not UNC bodies


Kwasi Robinson-

The heads of two PNM-run companies shared Rural Affairs and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi’s enthusiasm about local government reform, but two heads of UNC-run companies questioned whether the reform could really solve the perennial problems of bureaucracy, speaking to Newsday on Thursday.

Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation Director Kwasi Robinson said, “The entire local government is very happy to have Minister Al-Rawi here with us, in terms of his approach to work.

He recalled Al-Rawi’s recent meeting with local government leaders in San Fernando.

“Everyone was happy to leave this meeting because the way his mind works is very different from what we had before. We are grateful for the support we received from the former minister, but the way Mr. Al -Rawi tackles it got us all excited. .

“In terms of projects, our main focus at the moment is the reform bill which is in Parliament and we are really delighted to have Minister Al-Rawi leading it.”

Asked about his reform priorities, Robinson said, “He (Al-Rawi) has indicated that he is focused on digital transformation, which would help us ensure transparency in procurement and that kind of stuff. He has therefore indicated his priority and as president, I will follow the example of the new minister.”

Point Fortin Mayor Saleema McCree-Thomas said the same, recalling Al-Rawi’s years as an alderman.

“I am very happy to work with the new minister. He will bring some local government experience to the ministry, with his previous experience in the Ministry of the Attorney General and the development of local government reform.

“I know he too is very excited after meeting him at our Town Hall introductory meeting. I felt the excitement and passion for him to start working with our local government, so I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with him.”

She looks forward to greater autonomy to develop the borough, more financial stability and the removal of bureaucracy.

“In local government, we are the ones who are on the ground daily, so we have this hands-on feeling with the people there, our bourgeois in the community.”

She added, “I think in every change that happens in life there are challenges. However, I see it creating more jobs for our people in the different avenues that local government reform will create.” She expected more jobs in the borough at the corporation.

However, two UNC-run companies reacted cautiously to Al-Rawi’s enthusiasm.

Henry Awong-

Penal-Debe Regional Corporation director Dr Allen Sammy joked: ‘Is there a minister who will walk into a portfolio and say, ‘Where the hell did they put me? I don’t expect anyone to jump into a new portfolio without expressing their enthusiasm.”

He then complained about the difficulty of obtaining funds such as the construction of a drainage box. He said six months could elapse between an application to the Ministry of Local Government and approval by the Ministry of Finance. “Nobody could be ‘excited’ about that.

“It doesn’t matter who is there. Unless there is a fundamental reform in the way business is conducted between the two parties – local government and the budget division (of the Ministry of Finance) – there will be no there’s nothing to excite anyone.” Sammy alleged that TT’s education system has not trained people to be thinkers in debating issues, so efforts to create change end up as “a dreadful journey”. He alleged over-centralization of some services, such as a Ministry of Public Works and Transport unit in Penal being largely reassigned to Centeno.

“It’s because the people upstairs are insecure and want to control everything.”

When asked if he felt empowered by Al-Rawi, Couva-Tabaquite-Talparo Regional Corporation director Henry Awong said that in his 19 years in local government as a practitioner , he had seen many green papers, white papers and proposals for reform, “So I’m kind of immune to all that talk until I really see some action.”

“Yesterday was maybe a good start. Both sides have their views. I would support reform once it benefits the people.”

He reserved judgment until he saw things become more transparent.

“I am cautiously optimistic. Whatever we do should benefit everyone.”

Newsday asked how his bourgeois view the property tax, which Al-Rawi defended during Wednesday’s local government debate in the House of Representatives.

Awong replied, “I’m not sure it’s the right time to implement the property tax because a lot of people are crying and bawling. The local councilors are on the ground and we hear people’s cry every day, asking daily help with baskets or by coming to my office I’m not sure that imposing a property tax would be advantageous.

“If I’m a tenant, the landlord will increase my rent because he has to pay property tax and will seek to pass on that cost.” He also lamented that each of his councilors had to serve 10,000 bourgeois, compared to around 3,000 in another company and compared to the THA where a seat can be “won by 1,000 votes”. Awong said, “We need fundamental change, not cosmetic.”

He said reform was not needed to fill critical positions, lamenting that regional corporations lack town planners. He urged respect for local government, amid decades of reform talks.

“We don’t need reform to say, ‘Let’s make sure these companies are well equipped with these resources.’

“For something as simple as fuel, we have to claim and beg for funding.”