Air and sea transport transportation is listed as a specific responsibility of the Tobago House of Assembly under the THA Act, Fifth Schedule - which sets out the areas of responsibilities of the Assembly.
So reminded former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, who said he was astounded that Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles refused to speak up on behalf of Tobagonians on a matter of such serious concern to them on the basis that sea and air transport was the responsibility of the central government.
Dumas was commenting on Charles refusal to appear before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Land and Physical Infrastructure last Wednesday when the committee met at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough on its third day of hearings into the procurement and maintenance of the inter-island ferries.
In a letter signed by THA legal counsel Alvin Pascall, and read into record by Chairman of the committee, Stephen Creese, Charles acknowledged the JSC’s invitation to appear at the hearing but declined on the basis that “management of the airport and sea port of Trinidad and Tobago falls under the purview of the central government and its agents, the Board of Directors.”
Dumas, stressing that the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act specifically lists air and sea transportation as one of the responsibilities of the Assembly, said:
“I have to say that I was astonished because as I recalled from looking at the TV, the letter was read into record by the Chairman. My recollection is that the letter, which I believe was
signed by Pascall, not even by the Chief Secretary himself, said that this was a matter which fell under the central government and therefore the Chief Secretary would not appear, which I find very strange.
“There is a section of the same Act that says without prejudice to section 75 (1) of the Constitution, the THA shall be responsible for the areas set out in the Fifth Schedule, which means that in all the matters appearing in the Fifth Schedule, not only air and sea transportation, the THA’s responsibility can be overridden by the Cabinet.
“But then if you take that position, you will have to ask yourself why successive chief secretaries - Hochoy Charles and Orville London - were always talking about their powers under the Fifth Schedule.
“So I don’t understand how suddenly air and sea transportation becomes a matter exclusively for the central government. I am surprised that this is emanating from the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly.”
Dumas also while Charles broke no law, his refusal to speak up on behalf of Tobagonians was a let-down.
“Whether or not this appeared in the THA Act, the fact is that people resident in Tobago are being adversely affected by the difficulties of both the sea bridge and the air bridge and therefore I would have expected the Chief Secretary to appear to speak on behalf of the people of Tobago,” he said.
“I was astounded that such a letter should have been written. This surprised me greatly and you wonder if the Chief Secretary himself should not have been writing that letter, instead of having a legal person write on his behalf. I am not sure if that is precisely polite, noting illegal but I don’t think it was polite,” he said.
Chairman of the Tobago Council of the People’s National Movement, Stanford Callender, in an undated statement, defended Charles failure to appear before the JSC, asking two questions: Does this Chief Secretary or other chief secretary before him, have any real responsibility for the port, its
management and operations? and Does the presence of the Chief Secretary add to the inquiry?’
Answering his own questions by declaring that “the answer is a resounding NO”, Callender argued that the responsibilities listed under the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act, “were all superficial and of no effect until and except the Government deals meaningfully with the true intent of the Act and the contradiction of the Section 75(1) of the Constitution.”
“Further, the Port Authority Act 39 of 1961 specifically vests the responsibility of the ports inclusive of the sea bridge under the Port Authority,” he added.
Suggesting the answer “might very well lie in a total restructuring of our governance structures and the reform of our constitution, placing emphasis on the autonomy of the THA…, Callender said Charles must not be used as a “scapegoat or a tool of distraction in this affair.”