The days of Tobago's business being managed by a Chief Secretary could be soon over. The island could be ruled by its first premier, if the proposed Tobago Self-Government Bill and the Tobago Island Administration Bill 2021 are passed in the Parliament.
Tobago West MP and joint select committee (JSC) member Shamfa Cudjoe has said the decision to change the title of Chief Secretary to premier in the proposed Tobago Island Government has to do with the level of authority that will be ascribed to the office holder.
She said so on Wednesday at the launch of Face to Face, a public education awareness series highlighting the role of the MP and other issues relating to politics in TT.
The programme, a project of the Tobago West constituency, was carried live on her Facebook page.
The public is currently reviewing the findings of the JSC’s drafts on both pieces of legislation, which seek to give Tobago greater autonomy in managing its affairs.
The JSC will be in Tobago today and tomorrow, listening to the views of members of the public and other relevant stakeholders before determining the way forward.
One of the key components of the legislation is a proposal to replace the title of Chief Secretary.
Cudjoe gave the committee’s rationale behind the proposal.
“Because of the level of responsibility and the level of authority that the House of Assembly would have now, we felt it necessary to have a better title for the head of this Tobago Island Government,” she said.
“From our experience over the years, Tobago has been like an observer when you go to Caribbean Tourism Organisation meetings, UN, WTO (World Trade Organisation). The Tobago representative could only be an observer.”
Cudjoe said the proposed legislation gives the government the ability to transfer to the Tobago Island Government “the power to sit on the table with the necessary authority as the government to speak on Tobago matters and to conduct business on Tobago matters.”
She added: “Let’s say we are dealing with a trade matter or a tourism matter or something as it relates to international business and the representative from the Tobago House of Assembly or the Tobago Island Government is going, the Chief Secretary won’t want to sit around a table with prime ministers.”
Cudjoe, who is also the Minister of Community Development and Sport, said people often assume the Chief Secretary’s function is purely administrative.
“There are people who think that because the title is secretary or Chief Secretary, it means that that person is actually sitting doing administrative work and does not get that level of respect.”
Cudjoe said many people have complained to her about this perception in the past.
“I remember being a part of Commonwealth tours of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and there is a difference in the respect a secretary gets compared to a minister, or a Chief Secretary sitting around the table of prime ministers of the Caribbean. You want him or her to carry that level of authority.
“It is not somebody sitting down and (doing) secretarial or administrative work. People picture that in their minds.”
On Wednesday, former chief secretary Kelvin Charles was neither here nor there about the proposal.
“The name is immaterial….there is a view that it (premier) carries more status. Be reminded that a rose called by any other name smells just as sweet,” he told Newsday.
Current Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis had a similar view.
“I see no need for it (a change in name),” he said via WhatsApp.
Efforts to contact Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy leader Farley Augustine, the party's choice for Chief Secretary, to get his view were unsuccessful.
PDP leader Watson Duke on Tuesday described the draft bill as a "vacant paper" unable to make self-determination for Tobagonians a reality.