Not a premier issue

Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe -
Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe -

THERE IS a proposal for the position of Chief Secretary in the Tobago House of Assembly to be replaced with a premier.

The proposal is among a suite of measures being considered by a parliamentary committee on Tobago autonomy and subject to ongoing consultations.

Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe, a member of the committee, says the proposed change is meant to convey better the level of authority envisioned for the post-holder.

But we have seen little to indicate that this will be anything more than a superficial change.

It is not clear whether the legislative proposals being considered will effectively address the confusing division of governance functions between Trinidad and Tobago.

Nor does rechristening the Chief Secretary strike us as a priority issue, given the current deadlock in the assembly – a far more critical matter at this stage in Tobago’s history amid a public health and economic crisis.

Introducing a premier might be appropriate if taken as a purely symbolic gesture. Perhaps there are some who think the title has a more authoritative ring to it.

What use, though, would such connotations of authority serve if the division of power between the central government and the THA remains one largely governed by legal schedule?

For that appears to be the system suggested by the draft Tobago Self-Government Bill and the draft Tobago Island Administration Bill. Both seem to preserve the current situation, in which a list of vaguely-defined delegated functions is overseen by the THA, while national issues remain squarely for the Cabinet to decide.

Even if the proposal to increase the budgetary allocation to Tobago is accepted, alongside the proposal to authorise the THA to borrow more, such powers would also be governed by the same division of power. In other words, the grey areas and hazy lines of accountability would still remain.

If there is a concern for giving the THA’s leader more power, what about giving it to the people?

The Government has said the current proposals relate to reports and documents which have already been subject to extensive consultation. That is no reason why the ongoing consultation process should be so thin. The short window for submission of views and the three consultation meetings in Tobago (one for stakeholders and two for the public, including one today) are far from ideal.

If the aim of the legislative proposals is to place Tobago on an equal footing with Trinidad, it must surely also be the case that Trinidad, too, has a say in these matters.

In any case, the tighter restrictions which have been announced by the Prime Minister this week will have a particularly drastic effect on Tobago’s economy, further highlighting that the island has much more urgent things to worry about.

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"Not a premier issue"

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