THE GOVERNMENT was correct to intervene legislatively to resolve the Tobago impasse, which is otherwise seemingly insoluble.
But the legislation passed in the House of Representatives last Friday should be fine-tuned to narrow the scope of the Government’s intervention to the barest minimum.
For the moment, Cabinet should stand down on the thorny issue of boundary reform in light of the objections raised by stakeholders, the lack of meaningful consultation and the urgency of the matter as a whole. The longer this crisis is allowed to unfold, the riskier it becomes.
It is not too late for Government to make a more precise surgical intervention: amend the legislation so as to limit it to the discrete issue of a tiebreaker.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been clear in her reading of the law as stating the Parliament’s Standing Orders apply and therefore lots must be drawn. But equally, the THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis has noted sections of the THA Act that suggest a presiding officer is to be “elected.”
Parliament has an opportunity to end the uncertainty.
This could be done by modifying clause 5 of the bill, which currently proposes to allow a caretaker administration to call a fresh poll after a tie.
Doing so would allow the country to move on to either another election or to reform of the boundaries down the road, the latter of which could then be subject to a clear timeline, drawn up in conjunction with the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
Meanwhile, it is not entirely correct to dismiss the Prime Minister’s plan to convene a meeting with all 12 of the THA assemblymen next week as public relations.
While the proposed agenda for this gathering has not been released, it is hardly likely, despite the PM’s explanation, that the meeting is just to engage in ole talk on matters of interest to Tobago. More likely, it is an opportunity for all sides to get their views across. It is not too late.
If the legislation passed last Friday is over-ambitious in scope, it is also the case that further discussions, in whatever forum, can inform proceedings in the Senate.
The Government should do the sensible thing and temporarily defer the committee stage of the bill until it hears from the parties in Tobago.
Changes could then be made at the committee stage and the bill returned to the House of Representatives for final approval. Depending on the outcome of talks, a fresh bill entirely could be tabled.
Though the Government is correct to intervene, the roundabout manner in which it has done so raises troubling questions about its willingness to acknowledge the results of the THA election. Those results suggest it should be widening, not narrowing, the ultimate ambit of deliberations.