TOBAGONIANS will head to the polls again to try to resolve the six-six deadlock from the January 25 elections for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), a divided Senate decided at almost midnight on Tuesday.
Following the previous lead of the Lower House, the Senate passed the Tobago House of Assembly (Amendment) Bill 2021, without amendment.
The bill will see the Election and Boundaries Commission redraw Tobago's electoral districts so as to increase the number of THA seats from 12 at present to 15, an odd number drawn from a dormant 2018 Tobago self-governance bill to try to avert a repeat of any tie.
In committee stage, Independent senators variously split between supporting the bill in its original form against amendments proposed by the likes of Opposition Senator Wade Mark and Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy. However the Government marginally won the vote each time a division was taken on a proposed amendment or on the question to approve each clause.
The final vote for the bill to be read a third time in the Senate was carried by a narrow margin due to the Government winning one extra vote, that is, Independent Senator Paul Richards, for a final vote of 16 for and 14 against.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, in his wrap-up, argued the bill needed just a simple majority, as had been garnered by the original THA Act. He said precedent existed for legislation to establish the number of seats on an elected body, as done in 1967 to establish seven county councils in Trinidad.
The AG used the occasion to name the senior counsel whose legal opinions had advised him on the 2021 bill. These were Russell Martineau, Douglas Mendes, Deborah Peake, Elton Prescott and Gilbert Peterson.
The AG agreed with Independent Senator Anthony Vieira's earlier description of the deadlocked THA as "a zombie council, neither dead nor alive."
Roberts sent to Privileges Committee
Later, Senate Vice President Nigel de Freitas in the chair ruled on Senate Leader Franklin Khan's motion to send Opposition Senator Anil Roberts to the Privileges Committee for his remarks made during his online broadcast show, DouglAR politics.
Last week Roberts was stopped from speaking and moments later ejected from the chamber by Senate President Christine Kangaloo. De Freitas ruled that he thought a prima facie ("at first sight") case had been made to send Roberts to be investigated by the committee.
The sitting then heard a motion on the adjournment by Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye calling for sexual harassment legislation, drawing from her own experience of unwanted attention from a police officer in the law courts. Al-Rawi in reply hailed her for her life's work in rights advocacy and promised to act, inviting Thompson-Ahye to participate.