RURAL Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi rejected what he described was an attempt by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to deny local government representatives what they are entitled to under law and prevent local government corporations from serving the burgesses.
Al-Rawi also rejected Persad-Bissessar's claims that Government had a hidden agenda when it came to validating the actions of local government representatives and the operations of local government corporations between December 2, 2022 and May 18.
He made his statements during debate on the Municipal Corporations (Extension of Terms of Office and Validation) Bill 2023, in the House of Representatives on Monday.
In its judgment on May 18, the Privy Council said the extension of the life of local government bodies was unlawful. But it did not deem the extension a constitutional breach or that it deprived people of the right to vote.
Al-Rawi reiterated that this view was held by the High Court, Court of Appeal and two of the five Privy Council's law lords in its judgment.
After doing so, he rejected a call by Persad-Bissessar to amend the Municipal Corporations Act to extend the life of the corporations and set a date for local government elections.
Al-Rawi said if the Government were to heed Persad-Bissessar's advice, "we're going to end up in the face of the dictum of the Privy Council."
The Privy Council, he continued, "was very careful in its language to say that (amending the Municipal Corporations Act) might be viewed as an interference in the right of the majority of people in this country to vote as it relates to their councils."
Al-Rawi said, 'Therefore prudence dictates that the validation act, treats with the extension of the life of councils and the validation of their acts."
He argued that Persad-Bissessar's suggestion would result in local government representatives who were elected for four years, being unable to receive what they were entitled to, while their colleagues who were elected for three years would.
Al-Rawi asked if Persad-Bissessar wanted councillors and aldermen to receive the remunerations they are due.
He asked why Persad-Bissessar did not want the operations of local government corporations to be validated.
Al-Rawi said as an experienced MP, Persad-Bissessar knows that "validation acts never come with itemised specificity as to what to what was done."
He described Persad-Bissessar's utterances as hysteria.
Al-Rawi said the bill will allow corporations to continue take actions such as negotiate with trade unions that represent workers employed by them and facilitate payments into and out of the chairman/mayor's fund
Al-Rawi told Opposition MPs, "It is right there in the law. "
He added the bill also prevents potential fraud on the part "of a lone wolf councillor."
Al-Rawi claimed that Persad-Bissessar was familiar with this kind of behavior "where her own (UNC local government) chairmen and councillors are before the courts of TT on acts of fraud and still in office."
He said Persad-Bissessar would never fire those people from office.
Recalling that Persad-Bissessar was searching for deviousness in the intentions of the bill, Al-Rawi said, "I say to the Honourable Member, we share no part in your fantasy."
He added that Persad-Bissessar's reality "is to ignore people on charges and call them as 'heroes' in your camp."
Al-Rawi said the bill will validate the actions of all local government representatives, regardless of their political affiliation.
"Nobody can say that they receive their salaries or emoluments unlawfully or the acts of their councillors, particularly in the months of November and December (2022) where emergency works were undertaken (because of inclement weather) could fall into odium."
He added, "This is a benefit that we must take."