Former Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Ashworth Jack is hoping that a meeting between a governmental team and the Tobago House of Assembly last week on Tobago’s autonomy will bear fruit, but he has no expectations.
“I hope something comes out of it, but I am not hopeful,” he said after last Tuesday’s meeting between a ministerial team and members of the assembly on advancing a draft bill for Tobago’s internal self-government to Parliament.
Jack believes more information must be given to the Tobago public, saying these latest efforts to address the issue of autonomy must be genuine and sustained by the parties involved.
“Up to now they have not really said what was discussed, or even where it is going. To be honest, I have grown numb, but at the end of the day, I hope that Tobago gets what it deserves. If it does, this is the inclusion of a lot of persons in ANR Robinson's dream. I really hope that Tobagonians get what they deserve,” he said.
Jack recalled that in January 2013, when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was then Opposition Leader, Rowley had said the Opposition would not support the Government on legislation in the Lower House to give Tobago more autonomy.
“They really didn’t vote against it, they refused to take part in the debate. So what we are really attempting to do is reinvent the wheel. In 2013, the then Government under the People’s Partnership administration said let’s set up a joint select committee. The now Prime Minister, then Opposition Leader, alone spoke and said that no one else would speak, and then walked out,” he recalled.
He added: “I don’t know what kind of discussion they have had with the now Opposition, because they would need the Opposition to pass a bill of this nature. The Government needs a three-fourths majority to pass the legislation in the House of Representatives and a two-thirds majority in the Senate: a special majority is necessary.
"There should be dialogue, there should be compromise before you get to the Parliament. Is it that this would be another case of politics, they would just take it to the House and say okay, the Opposition, if you don’t support it then I would go say that you, as Opposition, did not support it?”
Jack attended the first meeting of the Forum of Political Leaders in early 2014 but subsequently said he was no longer interested in accepting the position of adviser to the central government team for the talks.
On Tuesday, a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said a team from the Government would meet later that day with a THA team in Tobago.
On Wednesday, a release from the Office of the Chief Secretary, Kelvin Charles, said he had met with the ministerial team. It said the THA and Tobago team comprised Gilbert Peterson, SC, attorneys Deborah Moore-Miggins and Ingrid Melville, and Alan Richards, while the ministerial team included Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, Minister in the Office of the Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds, and representatives from the Law Reform Commission and the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.
This release said the contents of the draft bill submitted to Cabinet were “thoroughly reviewed to ensure that it fully provided for the governance and developmental needs of Tobago.
“It is anticipated that the draft bill will be reviewed by the forum of political parties. The bill will be laid before Parliament in this parliamentary session,” the release added.
Tuesday’s meeting was the latest development on a draft bill – the Constitutional Amendment Bill – which was accepted by the THA Legislature on October 27, 2016 after debate and forwarded to Cabinet by then Chief Secretary Orville London. On October 2, 2016, London presented the draft Constitutional Amendment Tobago Self Government Bill 2016 for discussion at the Hampden/ Lowlands Multipurpose Facility.
After various views were expressed on this draft bill, it was determined that two clauses needed public approval.
The first, submission 141B chapter 11A, stated that the Chief Secretary should be elected by Tobago voters through universal suffrage in accordance with the Representation of the People Act. A vote was also cast to have the assembly change from its existing unicameral system to a bicameral system. Forty-one people at the consultation voted for the bicameral system, and one voted to retain the existing unicameral system.
London said submissions made would be used by the legal team to formulate a decision on a final document to be presented to the THA Executive Council and thereafter a motion would be debated in the THA to have the document sent to the Prime Minister, after which it wouldgo to Cabinet, “and then moved into the national phase, which includes consultation.”
After several public forums, two draft bills were produced, Bill A and Bill B. Notably absent from this consultation was political leader of the Platform of Truth (TPT) Hochoy Charles, who participated in all the prior discussions as part of the forum. Charles said he was told that Bill A was taken to Parliament because it contained proposals that Tobagonians agreed to, but in October 2016, said that this draft bill would not improve governance in Tobago, and should be returned to the public for discussion. Charles's contention was that the bill lacked provision for a separation of legislative and executive power and if passed by the Parliament, would subject Tobago to dictatorship rather than democracy, because power would rest with the same group of people.