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Armour: Councillors must be validated for acts after May 18

Sean Douglas Attorney General Reginald Armour - SUREASH CHOLAI
Attorney General Reginald Armour - SUREASH CHOLAI

ATTORNEY GENERAL Reginald Armour, SC, on Monday said a bill which validates the actions of councillors and aldermen should extend for a period going beyond the May 18 date on which the Privy Council judgment was deemed to have given notice that local councils were not validly constituted since last December.

He piloted the Municipal Corporations (Extension of Terms of Office and Validation) Bill, 2023, in the House of Representatives.

Armour began by saying despite the Privy Council stopping the Government adding an extra year to the terms of local council, the actions of councillors were recognised as valid by a basic principle of public law, known as the De Facto ("matter of fact") Officer Doctrine, stated in a law book by Wade and Forsyth's Administrative Law.

"The acts of an officer or judge may be held to be valid in law even though his own appointment is invalid and in truth he has no legal power at all."

The text said it was more logical to uphold his acts than annul them, where he had acted in his office under a general supposition of his competence to do so.

Armour said it was clear the councillors had acted under a general supposition of their competence to do so - performing their functions, receiving salaries and providing the general public with the benefit of their services.

He mulled an argument that the Government need not do anything to alleviate the uncertainty created by the Privy Council saying councillors' terms ended last December. "But there is a good case to be made for legislatively validating their acts.

"The public interest advantage of doing so is that it removes the uncertainty which has been created with regard to whether the public may rely on their acts/decisions and avoids the possibility of further litigation."

Armour then spoke in favour of the bill's clause five which validates councillors' actions going forward after May 18, on top of earlier clauses validating up to May 18.

He read aloud clause five, "Where the councillors and aldermen under section three, exercised the functions of councillors and aldermen between December 2, 2022 and May 18, 2023, and thereafter exercised the functions of councillors and aldermen up until the commencement of this Act, the exercise of those functions and all acts or things done pursuant thereto shall be deemed to have been as valid and effectual as if the Municipal Corporations Act expressly empowered them to exercise those functions."

Armour commented, "This clause serves to validate the functions and all acts or things done by councillors and aldermen for the 24-week period between December 2, 2022 to May 18, 2023 and, until the commencement of this act, for which this is the bill."

He then praised the hard work, diligence, daily achievements, progression of projects by councillors and aldermen, in areas such as the construction and maintenance of local roads and bridges; construction and maintenance of minor drains and minor water courses; and local health, general sanitation and rodent control.

"Mr Deputy Speaker, this bill underscores the Government’s vision for an effective local government system to facilitate the transformation and modernization of local communities." He quoted the Government's 2016 policy on local government reform.

“Local Government is the democratic representative of communities. It is closer to the people than Central Government and can be dubbed the ‘voice’ of communities.

"The PNM will ensure that with the devolution from the Ministry of Local Government, the municipal corporations report directly to the Ministry of Finance, particularly on fiscal matters, and are adequately equipped and resourced to provide quality service to their communities and make improve the quality of life for all citizens.”