Cradle of corruption

By Raffique Shah
June 20, 2023

Raffique ShahI haven’t given much thought to the local government election due to be held in August, nor have I paid much attention to the ongoing debate on reforming local government, a cornerstone of PNM’s vision for new governments.

In the first instance, besides creating three new boroughs, the Government is seeking to instil the decentralisation of governance, the precise details of which I have not studied. However, I am aware that the contentious issue of property tax which the PNM sees as not only a source of revenue, but more importantly a source of power to the local government bodies, remains a gap between the Government and the Opposition UNC, which is totally against property tax.

I have written recently that in view of the recent economic challenges that saw Government revenues fall in the wave of the Covid pandemic, that consideration should be given to finding mechanisms for deferring the issue of starting the process to collect what, in my view, is a legitimate tax that all property owners should pay. Let us not forget that when it was in power, the UNC, parading as the People’s Partnership, had agreed to the imposition of this tax. Such flip-flop is common place among political parties, especially those that remain in opposition for lengthy periods.

Decentralisation of government is theoretically a progressive move. If properly executed, it brings governance closer to the people. For example—a municipality can prioritise roads that need to be repaired, water courses that need substantial infrastructural development, etc, which will make life easier for the burgesses. The Corporations should be empowered to monitor and take action against residents who flout laws and regulations that are necessary for their own safety and security and that of their properties and the wider communities.

As it is, such strict implementation of these critical measures are often avoided or ignored by the authorities. Because of their inepti­tude or their fear of losing votes, or even at times facing threats of violence from angry and lawless property owners, the authorities are left looking powerless.

I realise I am meandering on the many issues that face local government officials, be they elected, nominated or employed by the bodies. The point I’m getting at is that ours is very much a lawless country in which might is right and the strong get their way at the ­expense of the weak.

So whatever reforms are being proposed to enhance the various infrastructure and amenities that will make for cleaner, better-run villages and towns fail even before they are implemented because the government buckles under the weight of protests.

People build on the river banks yet they cuss government when the floods come. They clog and otherwise abuse waterways, but come rainy season they cry foul, accusing corporation councillors and staff of being responsible for their plight.

While reforms as proposed may look good on paper, the failure to implement them will keep these communities in perpetual cycles of so many floods per year depending partly on nature’s input through heavy rains. But there is a bigger issue that overshadows any change for the better that any government in power may wish to implement.

Corruption looms large over every facet of life in this country. It is factored into budgets and other expenditure of public funds, very silently, of course, but nevertheless siphoning varying percentages of capital investment into the accounts of operators who, put bluntly, are nothing less than thieves, bandits and white-collar criminals.

The devolution of power in local government reform means, first and foremost, more government officials and private contractors doing business with State funds. They are licking their chops, I am sure, in anticipation of windfall corruption dollars.

Councillors and aldermen—who, under the new system, will be empowered to award contracts of varying sums—may have already decided long before the elections how they are going to benefit taxpayers’ money and the national treasury, rubbing their grubby hands hoping they will be candidates in the election. There is hardly a project—and I see many box drains being constructed, some of which are sure to flow uphill since the “contractors” building them know nothing of gradients—that can stand aloof of corruption.

A few general elections ago, there was the obscene spectacle of multimillion-dollar contracts being awarded on election day. People posing as contractors were awarded contracts to build miles of roads that ran through empty spaces where nothing was being constructed—not residential houses, not businesses, nothing.

And, the thing about it is these crooks laughed all the way to the banks, having presumably paid off whatever percentage the politicians required of them and ending up being multimillionaires while the roads they built are largely destroyed, such was the rape of the treasury.

It is pointless talking about local government reform when all that happens is we fatten the pockets and bank accounts of unscrupulous people.

I say without fear of contradiction that local government is the cradle of corruption.

2 thoughts on “Cradle of corruption”

  1. All PNM ministers have since the last and previous election fallen asleep. Like Kumbakharan the Indian giant who slept for six months but awoke one day. For that one day he wreak havoc in his community. They will awake just before the election.

    When they are awaken they will make all kinds of promises to take TnT back to Nirvana (a state of bliss). The biggest sleeper on the job has been the Minister of Works, about two to three weeks ago the banks of the Godineau river broke and cause enormous flooding in the area. Sometime ago similar situation arose in Greenvale and the army moved in bringing mattresses food and clean up equipment. Nothing for the woodland area. The same thing in Bamboo Settlement.

    The Godineau river moves water as far away as from Barrackpore. Flooding occurs in Penal, Barrackpore, Debe and surrounding areas for miles around. What cause such a high volume of water in those areas. It was discovered that the flood gates that was supposed to be open in low tide was locked. And the water had nowhere to go resulting in massive flooding. The Minister fell asleep on the job, but even so shouldn’t he have asked for a detail report as to what transpired?

    With tropical waves heading in TnT direction one can expect the sound asleep minister not to visit the area and ensure measures are taken to prevent a deluge. The Minister was given money to ease the flooding situation in the 2022 budget. According to Sadam Hosein this is what he spent:
    Flood mitigation erosion
    Allocated $29.9 million
    Spent: $7 million
    Drainage and irrigation
    Allocated: $31 million
    Spent: $5.3 million
    Major river clearing programme
    Allocated: $12 million
    Spent: $1.5 million
    Infrastructure rehabilitation and Flood mitigation programme
    Allocated: $4 million
    Spent: $800,000
    Upgrade to fix the existing drainage pumps
    Allocated: $15 million
    Spent: $3 million
    I rest my case. He must go! He has not built one catchment basin along the Godineau. Nor did a study on how to deal with flooding. If they stay in power nothing will be done. Flooding has an impact on the roads which remain pothole laden.

    Local government elections is perhaps the most direct impact elections on the citizenry. Bad roads, no water, flooding, recreation grounds, etc. falls in the local government elections.

    I cannot say how proud I am of the young man Ravi Balgobin Maharaj who single handedly took on the Rottweiler and saved TnT democracy. Cheers to him.

    For his sake and the future of TnT I appeal to all citizens to come out and vote, send a strong message to all those PNM minister who are in hiding. They need to wake up and get the job done. I understand Minister Hinds is no longer answering his phone when reporters call. He is practicing COSA Nostra …. Send them a message!

  2. This election is very important when it comes to the future quality of life for the citizenry. Part of the PNM strategy is similar to Guyana when the PNC leadership under Hoyt called for “mo fire”, “slo fire” instead of no fire. The PNM is fanning the flames of “mo fire” by enforcing property tax in a nation that is seeing a large increase in poverty. The poor is just one meal away from starvation.

    Dr Rowley thesis for governance was stated very clearly when he said he is weaning people off the government. He then proceeded to take away laptops, cut the school feeding program, cut the scholarship program changing requirements, cut GATE, cut pension (opps that’s on his agenda), stop the Point highway, close the Debe UWI, shut down all the tertiary learning centers that was the brain child of Fazal Karim, he suffered Tobagonians with a dysfunctional ferry service.

    He then went on to increase the price of fuel five times, and PNMites said is “ah lil ting”. He then increased VAT on all items, and proceeded to introduce the biggest tax grab by increase fines on everything related to vehicles. If you don’t secure the bucket at the back of your van, boom a $1200 fine. (Maybe more if you back answer the cop).

    The PNM is poised to ensure all who have a spare bedroom and an extra toilet to pay property tax at a higher rate. Worst if you have a prayer room that will be taxed also…but I am sure PNMites who love taxes will vote the balisier brigade in again.

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