Will Tobagonians’ views on the draft autonomy bills be accepted by the joint select committee (JSC) that has put the two pieces of legislation out for public consultation?
Entrepreneur Shirley Cooke asked this question on Wednesday night during a panel discussion which reviewed the contents of the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2020 and the Tobago Island Administration Bill 2021.
The discussion, carried virtually, was hosted by Tobago CivilNET. Panellists were former Tobago House of Assembly presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus, attorney Clyde Weatherhead and political commentator Dr Winford James.
Consultations on the draft bills, which seek to give Tobago greater autonomy in managing its affairs, are being held on Friday and Saturday at the Scarborough Library.
Speaking during the call-in segment, Cooke said she was unimpressed with the contents of the legislation and urged Tobagonians to speak out on them.
She said many things in them were "vexing" and it was "frustrating to know that the JSC sat all this time and this is what they came up with,” she said.
Cooke wondered if the JSC would be willing to take on board the public’s views when the consultations are completed.
“We must find, as Tobagonians, a way out of this and one of the things is that even as we all put our voices together and put forward our opinion, who is to say that the JSC is even going to accept it?”
Cooke, vice-president of the Crown Point Partnership Association, argued that the rights of Tobagonians should be determined by Tobagonians.
“So whenever we want to change that, it is easier for us to change than having to rely on central government with three-quarters (support) in the Parliament and two-thirds in the Senate.”
She also questioned whether the legislation was drafted with an ulterior motive in mind.
“I truly believe that this is either by design or this has to be an ulterior motive for the future, because I can’t see, for the life of me, it is vexacious to me as a Tobagonian for us intelligent people, who have struggled for 130-something years, to try to find our way to be still fighting for some basic rights.”
However, Cooke insisted it was necessary "to stand up through forums like this and physically face the fire, if you will, and show our disgust."
Rather than let other people determine Tobago's future, she felt Tobagonians must say, "We are not going to take it any more. Not to be radical, but we have to find some way.”
The JSC, which reviewed both pieces of legislation, comprises 12 members, including government and opposition MPs and independent senators.