ATTORNEY General Faris Al-Rawi on Tuesday dismissed criticism of the Elections and Boundaries Commission by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Al-Rawi on Tuesday stood firm in the government’s intention to amend the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act to break the 6-6 THA election deadlock.
Persad-Bissessar has claimed any attempt to increase the number of THA seats would subvert the democratic rights of citizens.
In repsonse, Al-Rawi said Kamla-Persad Bissessar's submission on the proposed amendment was “fundamentally wrong,” and advised her to have further reflection of the law.
Persad-Bissessar, on Monday night, expressed concern over the impartiality of the EBC as the PNM had put its "friends and family" there.
She said she was afraid the commission would “gerrymander” the proposed boundaries in the recommendations to increase the number of seats in the deadlocked THA from 12 to 15, to favour the PNM.
Persad-Bissessar also questioned from which hat the Prime Minister picked the number 15 seats. She submitted that the proposal to amend the THA Act was not necessary as a law pertaining to breaking the six-six tie in the January THA election was already there.
She said if it was to be laid in the Parliament, passage would certainly not require a simple but a special majority.
Contacted by the Newsday, Al-Rawi called on Persad-Bissessar to present her submissions on why this requires a special majority and they will look at it.”
However, Al-Rawi said he was surprised by the "newfound interest" by the UNC in Tobago's affairs.
“I cannot remember the last time the UNC fielded a candidate in the Tobago East or West constituencies, nor when they fielded a candidate in the THA election.
“Respectfully, I must refer Mrs Persad-Bissessar to the Joint Select Committee on the Tobago Autonomy Bill where her members who are participants in that committee could easily inform her that the number 15 is the recommendation before that committee.”
He said the recommendations came as a result of significant consultation.
“I also wish to remind Mrs Persad-Bissessar that the EBC is a constitutionally-independent entity that has served TT very well since its creation.
“It has never been the victim or subject of any negative commentary in relation to the transparency of its process.”
He said the reports over the years in relation to elections conducted since Independence would demonstrate this independence.
“The EBC’s work is without political interference, either from Government or Opposition.”
He said this is not the first time a legislative remedy is being brought to a deadlocked position, referring to the 18-18 general election tie which changed the parliamentary seats from 36 to 41.
With respect to her submission that the drawing of straws is the mechanism to break the deadlock, Al -Rawi noted these were simply an adoption of the same arguments put forward by the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP).
PDP, which tied with the PNM in the January THA elections, had put forward this position as a tiebreaker and was prepared to go to court to do so. However, the legal action has not materialised to date.
In terms of the THA reference to the Standing Order of the Parliament to where some things are not provided for, Al-Rawi said this is not the case for the election of a presiding officer.
“I wish to remind Mrs Persad-Bissessar that the THA standing orders are expressly contemplated of the election of a presiding officer. They are therefore not silent on the issue, you therefore, cannot have reference to the standing order of TT Parliament.
“I want to also draw this distinction that I think it contemptuous not condescending to equate the election of a Chief Secretary who one could view as a quasi-prime minister for the island of Tobago to that of the appointment of a Speaker of the House of Representatives.”