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Thursday 19 July 2018
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Autonomy bill must have clear definition

Forum leaders seek meeting with JSC on Tobago boundaries

Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, second from left, speaks at a press conference last Thursday on the Tobago autonony bill at the Administrative Complex. Others in photo are Ingrid Melville, legal advisor to the Forum, Stanford Callender, chairman of the Tobago Council of the PNM, second from right, and Hochoy Charles, political leader of the The Platform of Truth (TPT), and a former THA chief secretary.

The Tobago Forum of Political Leaders has written to the Joint Select Committee on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018 seeking a meeting to discuss the omission of Tobago’s boundaries in the Bill.

The JSC met in Tobago last week Sunday to hear comments on the Bill.

In his comments, economist Vanus James told the JSC that the Bill, as presented in Parliament, does not allow for inclusive governance nor does it define Tobago to enable equality of status, and so fails in its bid to deliver self-determination to the island.

James said in 2016, he had the opportunity to read Bill A and Bill B (developed out of consultations in Tobago by the Forum), contending that the bill which was said to have been presented to Parliament, fails to address the critical issue of defining Tobago and Trinidad.

“Bill A and Bill B, they both included the definitions of Tobago and Trinidad and that is a glaring omission in this bill. If the goal is equality of status, we are going to need that definition.

In response, Chairman of the committee, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis admitted that the definition of Tobago was removed in the Bill now being discussed by the JSC.

“…we did remove the definition of Tobago, based on advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in terms of International Law, so we did have to remove the definition of Tobago,” Robinson-Regis said.

However, at a press conference last Thursday at the Administrative Complex in Calder Hall, Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles told reporters that this omission of a definition of Tobago’s boundaries was a point of contention.

“What the JSC was doing, they came to get the views of Tobago and Tobagonians in respect of the Bill, where Tobagonians were free to articulate their views. My own view if you ask me, the definition is important… we have dispatched a letter to the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee requesting a meeting of the committee with members of the Forum and we are hoping that that meeting can take place within the first week of July,” he said.

Charles said that as part of the draft legislation that went forward, it was proposed what the definition should be. He said the Bill currently before Parliament does not specifically address the definition the way the Forum would like.

Section 141A (11) in the Bill states that a Tobago Statute shall have effect in Tobago, Little Tobago, St Giles island, Marble island, Goat island, Sisters island and such area of the archipelagic waters of Trinidad and Tobago, including any islands, the seabed and the subsoil that lies within 11 miles from the low watermark of Tobago.

“Quite frankly, we find that unacceptable simply because if Tobago statutes only have jurisdiction in terms of what is defined here, then it means that if one was to make the analogy of a universal set, if the universal set is Trinidad and Tobago and if you define Tobago within the universal set, it means that what is not Tobago is Trinidad and the anomaly of that is that it means as an implication that if we were going to Grenada, let’s say by boat, we would leave Tobago waters traverse Trinidad waters and then get to Grenada, it doesn’t make sense.

“So that we are uncomfortable with the definition as it is and indeed in respect of the watermark, given coastal erosion and those kinds of phenomena, we’re not sure what that means in a very real practical sense,” he said.

The press conference was hosted by the Forum - leaders of political parties in Tobago who came together to discuss self-government for Tobago. The forum came up with two draft bills, Bills A and B, with Bill A being forwarded for Cabinet consideration by former chief secretary Orville London.


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