Ms Vaneisa Baksh

Why did so few people vote in last week’s local government election? It was a pretty dismissive showing, and it would be enlightening to have a breakdown of who voted. I am curious about whether it is true that young people did not bother, as the political leader of the Movement for Social Justice, David Abdulah, was quoted in the Newsday as saying.

I am curious as to which areas had the most activity; the social and economic background of the people who came out to do their civic duty. I am curious about how many people know the distinction between general elections and the one for local government; how many people have a sense of the role of municipal corporations. It was only recently that I came to have a working knowledge of these entities myself.

I would have liked to be able to ask that the Central Statistical Office (CSO) provides the citizenry with figures and general data along those lines. I would like to know what our population is in 2019. I would like to know how many registered voters there are in 2019.

But I would have to bear in mind that the CSO is practically non-functional in that regard. What would they be able to provide as latest data?

The Elections and Boundaries Commission has declared a 34.9 per cent turnout.

I figure a lot of people are simply unaware and disinterested because they don’t know much about these civil bodies. Maybe people see the municipal corporations as ineffective puppets and could not be bothered. I went to the government website (again, I found some sites of dubious veracity, and definitely outdated material), but in the interest of trying to share information, I persevered, and I am simply relaying what I saw (yes, that’s a disclaimer).

The 14 municipal corporations fall under the purview of the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government. The former mayor of San Fernando, Senator Kazim Hosein, has been the minister since November 2016. On the website, it says that Cabinet approved the Draft Policy on Local Government Reform in August 2016.

The first paragraph of the Executive Summary of this Draft document (which was approved by Cabinet, I repeat) sets out this vision:

“As outlined in the People’s National Movement Manifesto which has become policy, Government’s vision for Local Government is to remove all of the red tape and bureaucracy that prevent Local Government bodies from doing their work in an effective and efficient manner. This policy outlines Government’s vision to give some level of autonomy to Municipalities thereby entrusting them with Executive Authority to manage and govern their affairs similar to that enjoyed by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).”

Here is an outline of what services the 14 municipal corporations are supposed to provide under the “guidance, facilitation and monitoring” of the Ministry. Having read them, I realise that these corporations are responsible for virtually everything connected to our daily routines—the things we face directly as we go about our business. I had not realised how extensive it is.

They fall under four broad headings.

1. Secondary Roads, Drains and

Municipal Infrastructure.

The first thing that struck me was this line: “Each Municipal Corporation in Trinidad is responsible for developing and maintaining the physical infrastructure for the communities that fall within their jurisdiction.” It goes on to identify construction and maintenance of secondary roads and pavements, drains and watercourses, bridges, street signs, and so on.

2. Public Health and Sanitation

Services. Here are the services:

Collection and disposal of garbage from public and private property. Development and maintenance of sanitary landfills and rodent control. Fumigation of premises. Cleaning of cesspits and cesspools. Provision and maintenance of public convenience toilets. Abatement of public nuisances (such as unsanitary conditions). Issuing of food badges and licenses for food premises. Provision of canine control and rodent control. Dissemination of information on environmental health.

3. Municipal Building and

Development Control.

Here’s what they do: Approvals for building, land development and land subdivision plans. Inspection of buildings under construction. Construction planning for major construction sites (hoardings, etc.). Monitoring all construction activities to ensure compliance with the approval granted. Issuing Completion Certificates for buildings. Enforcing action against illegal construction (the issuing of notices). Reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for major developments. Providing advice on all building-related matters to the public. Collecting land and building taxes in cities and boroughs.

4. Community Services and Facilities.

Here is what they do: Provision, maintenance and control of public parks, recreation grounds and other public spaces, as well as of public burial grounds, crematoria and cremation sites. Maintenance of state property. Provision, maintenance and control of all municipal buildings (such as town halls, markets and abattoirs/slaughter houses). Erection and provision of stages and platforms for community events. Provision, maintenance and control of public retail markets. Distribution of truck-borne water to areas without pipelines. Coordination of trade fairs, athletic events, cultural displays and entertainment. Management of disaster relief efforts, establishing disaster relief centres, clearing roadways and waterways.

These are the services that should be provided by the entities that have just been elected by a handful of the populace. How these corporations function affect us all very directly, and now it is time to make sure they deliver. Get to know your councillors, and make sure they know who you are.

—vaneisabaksh@gmail.com

THE AUTHOR is also an editor and a cricket historian

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