RURAL Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi has called on all local government representatives to put partisan politics aside, show up and represent their constituents to the best of their ability.
He expressed regret that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar told all UNC local government members to boycott a meeting with the Prime Minister at Government Campus Plaza, Port of Spain on Tuesday, to discuss local government reform.
Al-Rawi said the boycott denied UNC local government representatives an opportunity to understand how they could use local government reform to serve their constituents better.
He also denied Persad-Bissessar's claims at the UNC virtual forum on Monday that the meeting had anything to do with any rush towards local government elections this year.
Addressing a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Al-Rawi said only representatives from the seven local government corporations controlled by the PNM attended the meeting.
"Therefore the information on how we intend to operationalise local government reform was not able to be given directly to the local government practitioners who are representatives of the UNC."
He viewed the boycott as the UNC's continuing to demonstrate "a continuation of opposition for opposition's sake."
Al-Rawi believed the UNC's leadership was at odds with its local government practitioners, as "the reform contains all of the improvements that the very UNC has publicly cried out for."
He hoped Persad-Bissessar would stop denying people much-needed relief and reform at local government level.
"I am just in a sense of despair that the practitioners of local government have been denied a proper opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion and to face and to have face them none other than the Prime Minister and the minister responsible for this exercise (me)."
Issues such as mitigating flooding and maintaining basic infrastructure are at the heart of local government, he said.
Al-Rawi said the representatives who missed the meeting did not have the chance to learn how reform could help them access more resources to address those issues, better finance their corporations and allow corporations to hire people on their own, in addition to traditional avenues such as the Public Service Commission and the Statutory Authorities and Services Commission.
He said through property-tax collection, local corporations could have revenue to finance activities such as clearing drains and rivers.
He acknowledged the public's constant demand for results in the delivery of goods and services.
"It matters to people. It matters that we achieve the mission we have set out to."
Al-Rawi stressed,"It is time for us to operationalise decades of discussion (about local government reform)." He said those discussions have been going on for 63 years.
Rubbishing Persad-Bissessar's claim that the meeting was election-related, Al-Rawi reminded the public that by law, the life of local government bodies ends on December 2 and Rowley has up until March 3, 2023 to announce the election date.
Acknowledging the responsibility of incumbent governments to present themselves for questioning in such exercises. Al-Rawi said Rowley was ready to do that on Tuesday.
"Today, the Prime Minister made arrangements for the Prime Minister to be questioned. Open microphone and (available to ) all members of local government."
There was also no time limit for Rowley, Al-Rawi or any other minister to be questioned by local government members.
Al-Rawi said, "When we cry out for attention and we say to people, listen to us, hear us, there can be no greater reporting opportunity than taking these opportunities into reality by turning up, asking the questions and making sure we can go back to each and every one of the people that we represent and tell our version of what we understood."
To the absent UNC representatives, Al-Rawi said,"Our constituents require us to deliver services. It is imperative, if we are representing in a system of governance, that we participate in the system of governance.
"The national cry is one of asking representatives simply to turn up. Turning up is the start of getting business done."
Owing to the UNC boycott, Rowley did not attend the meeting. Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis deputised for him. Al-Rawi, Attorney General Reginald Armour and Public Administration Minister Allyson West were also present.
Notwithstanding the UNC boycott, Al-Rawi said, "The Government will press on with further consultations (on local government reform)." One of those consultations would be with the labour movement.