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Khan: PNM ready to reform local government

The trinidad Guardian / As sure as night follows day, the PNM government is going to reform local government to bring power to the people. The party is ready to deliver, chairman and Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Franklin Khan declared yesterday afternoon, at the official launch of the PNM’s local government campaign at the Queen’s Park Savannah.

“It is real and it will happen. Just as night follows day, local government reform is going to happen this time,” he said.

Khan said although local government reform has been bandied around for decades, it is different this time because Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has given his personal commitment to the cause. The new legislation will empower local regional corporations to govern their own regions, like regional governments.

The PNM’s campaign for the November 28 local government elections will focus on local government reform, he said.

“The PNM is in election mode once again and we are red and ready,” he said.

At yesterday’s convention and campaign launch, the party presented 137 candidates to contest in 14 regional corporations.  Khan said surveys commissioned by the PNM showed that almost 100 per cent of those questioned believe local government reform is required.

Between December 2015 and April 2016, the party held 14 local government reform consultations in each region. Khan said legislation to reform local government has already been drafted by Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General Stuart Young and within the first half of 2017 it will be tabled in Parliament, then put before a Joint Select Committee for discussion.

He said whether it is a PNM-controlled corporation, like Diego Martin, or a UNC-controlled one like Siparia, all will be given the same power to govern their specific geographical areas. He said there will be no need for a local government minister, making him probably the only minister determined to work himself out of a job.

Local government bodies will be given a new structure, additional financing and increased manpower to handle their new responsibilities.

They will have a relationship with the Ministry of Finance similar to that of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and develop their own plans and policies for their respective regions, the minister said.

“That’s what you call devolution of power,” Khan said.

Corporations will be allowed to retain certain taxes collected within their boundaries and councillors will be employed full time.

Khan said as promised in its 2015 general election manifesto, the PNM plans to remove all the red tape and bureaucracy that prevents regional corporations from doing their work in an efficient manner.

Regional corporations will be given statutory authority to handle a broad range of new responsibilities, including: • Social services delivery • School maintenance • Maintenance of recreation grounds  • Local tourism

People within each corporation will be contracted to do small projects in their areas.

Khan said a total of 1,400 new municipal police officers will be employed to do community policing. That breaks down to 100 new municipal police officers in each corporation, with the recruits coming from their own areas.

Regional corporations will also be given more power to handle disasters in their areas and will be mandated to engage non-governmental and community-based organisations in the decision making process.

Khan said corporations are, at present, undersourced and understaffed and a new organisational structure will be put in place to implement the added responsibilities. 

This will result in job creation as young engineers, quantity surveyors and other graduates will be absorbed into the new local government structure, he said.

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