KELVIN CHARLES’ announcement that he will step down as Chief Secretary at the end of April, though long overdue, has not come too late. It puts Tobago’s governance back on a sound footing by removing uncertainty, while potentially paving the way for historic developments. Good sense has prevailed.
The outgoing Chief Secretary’s position became untenable in January. The PNM internal election result made plain the fact that most voters from his own party had lost faith in him. Or put another way, most expressed a preference for Tracy Davidson-Celestine.
Though the writing was on the wall, Charles nonetheless put Davidson-Celestine in the awkward position of having, as his political leader, to request his resignation. He clung on, mistaking stubbornness for strength until his mind yielded to reality.
Though he has tarnished his own legacy somewhat given the circumstances of his exit, Charles should nonetheless be thanked for his yeoman service to the island and, by extension, to the nation at large. He has sat in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) as a member for years. Convinced he had a contribution to make, he sacrificed much, at one stage going nine months without a paying job as he transitioned out of the role of THA presiding officer. That speaks volumes about his commitment.
And yet, the people have spoken. And they have spoken clearly. In handing Davidson-Celestine the leadership of the PNM’s Tobago Council, they’ve given her the powers that are inherent to that political position.
Davidson-Celestine is now likely to become a councillor and there is some speculation that Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack could be given the nod to become Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary must be someone from within the Assembly who can command the larger number of assemblymen. An argument can be made that even a councillor is, as such, eligible, though there are some who believe otherwise.
Whatever the legal intricacies, it is clear there will be change at the Assembly. And those changes will directly reflect the exercise of political muscle by the new female political leader of the PNM Tobago Council who has already made history by reference to that fact alone.
Pending matters must be resolved moving forward. These include the outcome of a task force appointed by Charles into the Tobago health sector, as well as the ongoing efforts to renovate the island’s international airport.
But the Tobago House of Assembly Act also gives the ruling party in the Assembly the power to call forth elections. As the political leader of the PNM Tobago Council, whether or not she becomes a councillor or even Chief Secretary, Davidson-Celestine could mandate the current assemblymen to ring the election bell. These, then, are among the many possibilities now open to her. What’s next?