Financial accountability, the power to make laws, responsibilities of ex-officio members of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and guaranteeing independence and stability for Tobagonians were among issues raised by residents at the the first public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018 on Sunday.
At the hearing at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough, Bacolet resident Rachel Almandoz proposed to the committee that the position of Chief Secretary position should be limited to two terms.
“I feel that two terms in office is democratic, as in the past 16 years of reign is not democracy,” Almandoz said. The former chief secretary Orville London served for 16 years.
Almandoz also called for financial accountability by the THA.
“In the past, there has been no accountability for financial reports from the past THA. Millions and billions have not been accounted for and now to progress to this state for the autonomy of Tobago,” she noted.
Representative of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Retired Persons (TTARP) Geoffrey Lewis addressed the issue of equal status between Tobago and Trinidad, asking whether the 15 members of Assembly will have a say in the making of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
In response, committee member, Clarence Rambharat said that under the Tobago Bill, the Legislature in Tobago will make laws for Tobago only.
“Laws for Trinidad and Tobago will continue to be made by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, the current structure will be preserved in the sense that matters are reserved exclusively for the central government and the Parliament and those are things that would affect Trinidad and Tobago. Where there are matters related to Tobago running its affairs, those will be dealt with within Tobago,” Rambharat said.
Plymouth resident, Vincent Nathaniel Taylor, called for the two Tobago Members of Parliament to be ex-officio members of the Assembly, “so that they can go in there and sit, speak, hear what the people have to say so when they go down to Parliament, they know exactly what they are representing.”
Rambharat said the suggestion was worth considering.
Palatuvier resident Othman Drysdale worried about the lack of equality and independence for Tobagonians.
“Why is it Tobago is being treated, from inception, in this uneven and unequal way? Everyone agrees that we should be side by side, but for all my years, in growing up, I only see Tobago being given a fish every day rather than being taught to fish.
“We didn’t ask to be in that position, the English people and them did it, put the onus on Trinidad to take care of little Tobago,” he said.
Committee member Dhanyshar Mahabir, in response, said without accelerating the pace of economic development in Tobago, there really can be no genuine independence.
He said the first time he learnt of Tobago’s unique problems was when for president, ANR Robinson, visited his high school in Chaguanas and spoke about the Tobago internal self- government.
“… from ’76 to now, we have been making some strides, not as fast as you would like the pace to go but we did pass the THA Act somewhere in 1996.
He said there was a need to look at the economic structure in Tobago now, identify constraints preventing it from generating per capita incomes in accord with more developed islands in the world and “identify those with the dialogue that we are having.”