The earliest attempt at local government in Trinidad was the Royal Cabildo, the seat of governance in the island, established in St. Joseph in 1592 by Spanish colonists. The Cabildo exercised wide executive powers, appointing chief judges on the island, supervising markets, scavenging and street repair, controlling the police, the Royal Gaol, admitting of physicians and surgeons, and levying duties and taxes on grog shops. Taxpayers elected the members of the Cabildo annually. The Cabildo’s operations were much broader in scope than the municipal corporations today. In 1874, the Cabildo moved from St. Joseph to Port-of- Spain.
When Trinidad changed to British rule in 1797, the new authorities under the Ordinance of the Regulation of Municipal Corporation enacted on 19th August 1853 attempted to change the Cabildo into an English-type municipality, by making it first a Town Council, then a Borough Council.
Over the years, new legislation, civil unrest and political organization further changed the shape of local government. In 1927, Trinidad was divided into eight counties by the Division of Trinidad Act. These counties were sub-divided into wards, which functioned as administrative units in the island.
The 1930’s labour riots and the recommendations of the Moyne Commission combined to give rise to the County Councils which were established in 1945(6 in Trinidad and 1 for Tobago). Local Government services in Tobago were provided through the Tobago County Council. The County Councils defined the wards as electoral districts. The County Council Act No 25 of 1967 developed the characteristics of the local government system employed today. With this Act, the wards were
replaced by electoral districts with one Councillor per district; the position of Alderman was introduced into the system and a role for a Minister with responsibility for Local government was introduced in the country’s Cabinet.
The post-independence era saw the abolition of the Tobago County Council in 1980 and the introduction of the more autonomous Tobago House of Assembly. In that same year the oil town of Point Fortin was carved out of the St Patrick County Council and made into a borough. The County Councils Act and the legislations governing the Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima, and Point Fortin Municipal Corporations were repealed in 1990 and their boundaries rearranged to create an increased number of Municipal Corporations under the Municipal Corporations Act No 21 of 1990. This Act granted corporate municipal status to all Local Government bodies in Trinidad.
There are 14 municipal corporations in Trinidad. The Tobago House of Assembly is responsible for all services provided in Tobago.
Act 21 of 1990 provided for 18 Municipal Corporations: two City, three Borough (the new Borough of Chaguanas was created) and thirteen Regional Corporations. The Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Act No. 8 of 1992 merged some of the regions to make nine Regional Corporations, reducing the number of Municipal Corporations to (14) fourteen.
In 2004, a Draft Policy Paper on Local Government Reform was published by the Ministry of Local Government. It proposed the reform and decentralization of the system with more autonomy, and mechanisms to promote greater citizen participation in Local Government. The proposals included the need for legislative review, boundary redefinition, corporate restructuring and operational changes.
In August 2016 Cabinet approved the Draft Policy on Local Government Reform, which was crafted following public consultations across the fourteen (14) Municipal Corporations. The Draft Policy outlines expanded responsibilities and greater autonomy for the Municipal Corporations modeled after the Tobago House of Assembly.
Legislative amendments necessary for the implementation of this Reform are currently being drafted and are expected to be brought before Parliament in the near future