PROGRESSIVE Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy political leader Farley Augustine has made it clear the party is not in favour of the joint select committee’s (JSC’s) final report to the Parliament on the Tobago “autonomy” bills.
Debate on a motion to adopt the JSC’s report on the Constitution (Amendment) Tobago Self-Government Bill 2020 and the Tobago Island Administration Bill 2021 began in the House of Representatives on Monday.
It culminated three public consultations, two of which were held with key political stakeholders in Tobago, on April 30 and May 1. The third was held in Trinidad on May 3.
The JSC, comprising both Government and Opposition members, subsequently presented its final report to the Parliament.
The bills require a three-fifths majority for passage, meaning they must get the Opposition UNC’s support.
Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis, who chaired the JSC which reviewed the bills, opened the debate on the motion.
Saying it was an historic day for the people of Tobago, Robinson-Regis added: “It is a day that has been long in coming and for some, a day many believe that will never see the light of day.”
But Augustine, who listened to Robinson-Regis’ contribution and that of several other speakers, said the arguments being put forward on either side, were “predictable” and did not reflect the wishes of Tobagonians.
“So far, the debate has been predictable and consistent with what we have been up against with the JSC. But the takeaway point for Tobago is that it is evident that there is a clear unwillingness to give Tobago what Tobago desires,” he told Newsday.
The Speyside/L’Anse Fourmi/Parlautuvier representative accused the Government and Opposition of supporting flawed bills.
“Everyone agrees that the JSC’s final report has significant flaws and in some ways, reflects an unwillingness to listen to the people of Tobago.”
To demonstrate his point, Augustine referred to a recent PNM press release, which, he said, stated that the bills are not perfect.
“So, if they know they are not perfect and they are flawed, why not let us fix it before they carry it to the Parliament.
“But, they seem to insist on carrying it to the Parliament as is, so let the chips fall where they may at this point.”
Augustine avoided making any pronouncement on the outcome of the debate.
He said he has not had any conversations with members of the Opposition regarding how they are likely to vote.
Augustine said that was deliberate.
“So, I cannot say what their final position will be. They gave a minority report and, so far, they have been consistent with their minority report, which shows that they have challenges with the process.”
Watson: Trinidad looks down on Tobago
PDP political leader Watson Duke, who also watched the debate, claimed Trinidad has always viewed Tobago as inferior.
He believes this is so because most Trinidadians do not know the history of Tobago.
Duke criticised arguments made by the PNM Tobago Council that the “autonomy” bills are an upgrade to the current THA Act and a good starting point for Tobago’s future.
“They saying take a likkle thing, take a likkle thing, it better than what we had before,” he said in a video on his Facebook page.
Showing a book titled Laws of Tobago (1884), Duke said Tobago has been independent in the past and is not asking for anything extraordinary.
“This stupidness about Rowley saying he will give Tobago law-making powers...Instead of using your authority to further Tobago, what are you doing? You are trying to keep Tobago in subjugation.”
He added, “To come to Parliament now and discuss Tobago as if Tobago is some little rude and upstart child who is trying to get more, and they are trying to do a little bit more for Tobago – rubbish.”
The island of Tobago must be defined, and the island of Trinidad must be defined. So, you have a bogus bill where they are saying to Tobagonians that we are going to define you, but you are not going to define Trinidad. Can you define America without defining the state of New York...? It’s a bogus form of integration.”
Duke also said Tobago wants to freely pursue, without any external influence, its economic development.
“Whether we want to monetise the gas and oil that lie in our waters, we must be able to do that.”
He added, “Trinidad cannot tell us how to set up a Tobago House of Assembly. Trinidad cannot decide that.”
Tracy: 250 consultations in ten years
The PNM Tobago Council, meanwhile, issued a statement late Monday, accusing the UNC and PDP of disrespecting Tobagonians by not supporting the legislation.
“The two parties that met before the start of the debate on the Constitution Amendment and Tobago Island Administration Bill are now ensuring that Tobagonians are denied the right to self-determination,” it said.
The Tobago Council said the UNC, by its refusal to support the bill, has in effect, denied Tobago, receipt of an enhanced fiscal package from as early as October 2021 and the opportunities for us to make laws for Tobago.
The party further quoted Tobago Council political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who attended the debate in Trinidad, as saying:
“It is a sad day for the people of Tobago with the announcement that the UNC will not support this. Listening to the debate, the Opposition has not yet put forward any cogent argument or any main reasons as to why the bills should not be supported.”
She recalled more than 250 consultations were conducted over the last ten years throughout Tobago to garner the views of the people.
Davidson-Celestine said: “After all the years of work and consultation, it is strange to me that the argument now is that more consultations are needed. My position is always that the bills are not perfect but at the same time, it takes Tobago closer to autonomy.”
She accused the UNC of using “stalling tactics and playing politics with the affairs of the people of Tobago.”
Davidson-Celestine claimed the UNC and PDP are “trading politics before people.”
She said a major part of the legislation is that it recognises Tobago as an equal partner with Trinidad.
Davidson-Celestine said apart from getting an increased budgetary allocation, the legislation also expands the island’s nautical miles under its control and gives Tobago the ability to make laws.