Reflections on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2021

Vanus James and Winford James

The people of Tobago have long been clamouring for equality of status and self-determination in its relationship with Trinidad. Historically, the fundamental objective has been to create an enabling democratic governance framework in which Tobago can make progress in increasing its contribution to the development of TT as a nation-state.

Equality of status is addressed inadequately by the bills laid before the House. These bills simply commit to equality of status with no definition and no specific provisions to give meaning to the commitment. Further, the bills fail to provide for Tobago’s self-determination in terms of the fundamental rights to be entrenched in the Constitution. They also contain several provisions that directly contradict and prevent the self-determination of Tobago when conceived in terms of the Tobago’s fundamental rights.

While commenting on the bills laid before the House, what is set out below also address the following: (i) the purpose of the amendments; (ii) the core principles to be followed in making Constitutional amendments; (iii) equality of status; (iv) self-determination; and (v) appropriate national financing of Tobago.

The comments do not address directly the Tobago Island Government Bill, since the core principles indicate that the government of TT should make no law that designs the Tobago island government. Such a law would fundamentally contradict the fundamental rights of the people of Tobago to self-determination within the nation-state of TT.

All of these considerations reflect what have learned from discussions with the people of Tobago – discussions that were denied by the inadequate consultation procedures adopted by those who drafted the Bills before the House.

Purpose of the Constitutional amendments

1. Section 4 of the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2021 correctly seeks to provide Tobago equal status with Trinidad and self-determination for Tobago in the nation-state of TT.

2. However, there is no reference to the overarching ideal of facilitating creation of an enabling democratic governance framework which Tobago can deploy to make progress in increasing its contribution to the development of Trinidad and Tobago as a nation-state.

Core principles

3. Amendments to the Constitution to provide equal status and self-determination to Tobago must reflect certain principles of free association between Tobago and Trinidad, namely:

a. Trinidad and Tobago must each be defined in the Constitution, and land and sea must be factored into the definition of Tobago and the extent of the jurisdiction of the Government of Tobago.

b. It must be expressly stated that Tobago should no longer carry the status of a ward of TT.

c. Government must be representative. This means that the people of Tobago want to be governed by their elected representatives and the source of the powers of government over Tobago is the people of Tobago, exercised through their elected representatives.

d. Tobago has no objection to the people of Trinidad choosing the government of TT as the Trinidad island government. However, that arrangement is not desirable as the Tobago Island Government.

e. Tobago shall exercise powers over all matters except those that are specifically assigned to the government of TT. Any powers exercised by the government of TT over Tobago must be powers specifically assigned by the people of Tobago, with appropriate conditionalities, and in particular must not simply be a relic of colonial dictates.

f. The design of the government of Tobago must not be written into the Constitution of TT, nor must it be the subject of any law passed by the government of TT.

g. Specific provisions in the Constitution must give meaning to equal status as well as to self-determination.

h. Contributions to the financing of government in Tobago by the government of TT must be based on a specific and fair formula fixed in the Constitution for recurrent expenditure and a specific and fair formula fixed in the constitution for development (capital) expenditure.

These principles have generally been ignored or variously violated by the bills laid before the House. Further, the bills before the House ignore the long-standing desire expressed by the people of Tobago for a government of TT with a federal design. The comments below reflect our understanding, and the agreement of leading commentators in Tobago, that the provisions for equality of status and self-determination are the essence of a federal design.

­ – ­To be continued in Tuesday's Newsday


"Reflections on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2021"

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