WANT TO know what’s in the legislation brought by the Government to grant Tobago self-governance?
Simple. All you have to do is download and read a 771-page report published by Parliament.
Meanwhile, the “debate” on this matter by politicians, within the Parliament and elsewhere, has not significantly enhanced anyone’s understanding of the legal reforms being proposed.
The report debated in Parliament this week contains a revised version of the original legislation tabled on this issue some years ago. In a departure from standard parliamentary practice, how the revised version differs from the original is not flagged, making it difficult for anyone interested to follow what is being considered.
All of this speaks volumes, literally.
Instead of providing clarity, parliamentarians have deepened the obscurity by engaging in partisan bickering. There is a sense of the issue being used merely as a political football by PNM and UNC MPs, with the Progressive Democratic Patriots also playing to their own gallery.
Government Whip Camille Robinson-Regis this week said the legislation represents what the people of Tobago want. But she presented no evidence to back up that claim, except to say all 12 assemblymen of the Tobago House of Assembly had been included in consultations.
What about the 60,000 residents of Tobago as a whole?
According to the parliamentary committee report, the revised legislation was prepared after an online survey involving a grand total of 195 citizens. Additionally, 31 people attended consultations. Submissions were also received from “stakeholders,” at least a dozen of whom were simply government departments.
Far from being the advancement of a noble cause to right the wrongs of history, the move to push forward with this reform at this moment in time is highly suspect.
How the legislation will meaningfully alter the current framework between the two islands is not apparent.
What little is known is that the new provisions represent an attempt to make it easier for Tobago to spend money from the Treasury – whether through increased budgetary appropriations or through granting tax-collection powers to the Tobago governance entity.
This bestowal of largesse, at a moment when a caretaker government – which has not been endorsed outright by the Tobago electorate – has been allowed to hold the reins of power in Tobago for almost half a year with no indication of when the next election will occur is of serious concern.
Should self-governance come under the cloak of lengthy reports, confusing legalese, hollow political rhetoric, dubious consultation processes and circumscribed parliamentary debates? Should this be rushed at a moment when the country is under the yoke of a virulent, unprecedented public health crisis?
In short, is this the way Tobago should be granted autonomy?