Wednesday 23 September, 2020

New districts, boundaries approved ahead of Local Gov't elections

Leader of the House, Camille Robinson-Regis, winds up the debate on the motion to approve the draft EBC (Local Government and THA) Order, 2019.
© 2019 Office of the Parliament.

Leader of the House, Camille Robinson-Regis, winds up the debate on the motion to approve the draft EBC (Local Government and THA) Order, 2019. © 2019 Office of the Parliament.

Despite initial objection by the Opposition to debate the draft EBC (Local Government and THA) Order, 2019 in the midst of debate on the 2020 Budget, the motion was approved.

The order, which intends to enact changes to established boundaries of electoral districts and constituencies ahead of the December 2 Local Government Elections was approved around midnight.

Two new districts were created – El Socorro/Aranguez North and La Fortune/Debe North, in the San Juan/Laventille and Penal/Debe Regional Corporations respectively.

Changes were also made to boundaries in three districts in San Fernando, two in Chaguanas, two in Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, eight in Penal/Debe, three in Sangre Grande, nine in San Juan/Laventille and two in Siparia. Name changes were made to two districts in Chaguanas, two in Penal/Debe and three in Sangre Grande.

In raising the motion in the Parliament Friday night, Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis said it was customary not to make changes to reports coming from independent bodies like the EBC.

Opposition Chief Whip David Lee raised an objection to the suspension of the debate on the budget at 11.41 pm to debate the draft EBC Order, labelling it as “unfair”, especially at the end of a long day.

“We heard about it on Monday that it might have been debated on Monday and some of my members had prepared for Monday.

We were not told here tonight, officially, that we were going to debate this motion.”

“I think it is unfair, I think it is in poor taste, it is reckless…the Leader of Government Business could have communicated properly with myself who is the Chief Whip in trying to get a proper time to debate this motion.”

Kicking off debate on the Order was Tabaquite MP Suruj Rambachan who noted that the Local Government Election date was announced without Local Government Reform being achieved.

He said the motion was a distraction in the middle of debate on the Budget, and he hoped that it was not meant to detract from Government’s poor handling of the economy.

In winding up the Opposition’s contribution to the debate on the motion, San Juan/Barataria MP Dr Fuad Khan expressed concern over “voter displacement” arising out of the boundary changes.

“Someone who belongs to Barataria… now belongs to El Socorro/Aranguez. And that is a problem in itself for voters on such short notice. Registration may have to take place for voters in another boundary and it has to go forward in a different manner.”

He urged a moving away from the first-past-the-post electoral system which he said affects the delivery of services to Opposition-controlled constituencies.

“I make the plea, and I make the plea very strongly – in order to get rid of this negativity of boundaries, shifting of boundaries… it’s time we look at proportional representation and constitutional reform in this country.”

Robinson-Regis in winding up debate on the Order said the Opposition had ample notice on the matter, noting that she notified Lee of the debate via WhatsApp a day earlier. She denied Opposition's claim that it was unprecedented to suspend the Budget debate to debate other matters.

The motion required a simple majority to be approved. The motion had to be passed to facilitate holding of Local Government elections on December 2.

Lee initially wrote to Speaker of the House Brigid Annisette-George on October 5, expressing the Opposition’s objection to debating the Order on the day the Budget was scheduled to be presented.

The Opposition’s objection was on the grounds that the timing of the motion “impinges on the Opposition’s capacity to afford requisite attention to the crucial policy instrument that is the national budget.”

In his letter, Lee also noted that the EBC report was only laid in Parliament seven months ago, despite being submitted to then Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, Kazim Hosein on June 12, 2017.

The House was adjourned to October 14 at 10 am. At that time, debate will continue on the Budget.

Delimitation of Electoral Districts or Constituencies

The EBC is mandated to submit reports to Parliament on its recommendations in respect of the number of electoral districts and the descriptions of the boundaries of each district defined for Parliamentary, Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly elections.

The delimitation of electoral districts or constituencies is influenced by the growth and shifts in the population. These changes are made in accordance with Section 72 and the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the case of Parliamentary Elections.

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