PDP: Autonomy insufficient, Tobago must keep options open

FILE PHOTO: PDP political leader Watson Duke, centre, with deputies Farley Augustine, left, and Dr Faith BYisrael outside the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough. -
FILE PHOTO: PDP political leader Watson Duke, centre, with deputies Farley Augustine, left, and Dr Faith BYisrael outside the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough. -

Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader Watson Duke is adamant that Tobagonians want more than internal self governance. In a Facebook live on Wednesday, Duke said Tobagonians – if they so desire – should be given the opportunity to become fully independent of Trinidad.

The parliamentary debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill and Tobago Island Government Bill, intended to give Tobago greater autonomy, ended on Tuesday, but a vote was not taken.

Duke, who previously described the bill as a "vacant paper" unable to give Tobagonians the self-determination they aspire to, continued his criticism of the Joint Select Committee's report to Parliament.

"This is a bitter battle and I will stand against anybody, inside my party or outside, who dare to say Tobago only wants internal self government – wrong.

"Tobago wants the right to freely choose its political status without any external interference," he said.

"Political status means we could have internal self government, if we want to.

"It means if we don't want that we could change we mind and have an association (with Trinidad), if we want to.

"If we don't want internal self government nor an association, we could go fully independent, if we want to.

"That is what we want and anybody in my party or outside who say different, I will challenge them.

"That is what I want for Tobago. Tobagonians must speak and we must make up our minds about what we want."

Although the autonomy bill was born out of countless consultations in Tobago, Duke insisted that it still does not reflect the wishes of its people in its present form.

"The man with the sore foot in Tobago is way more important than the man with the doctorate that lives in Maraval in Trinidad. You know why? Because it is ah Tobago issue and the people of Tobago count. Everybody has a voice. This must involve a full discussion."

In Parliament on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said Duke, at the party's 2020 general election campaign launch, had advocated for secession.

Quoting from Duke's speech at Magdalena hotel, Dr Rowley said the PDP leader had called for Tobago's own judicial system, own High Court, own immigration control, own air traffic control and own prime minister."

Rowley said, "That is not the position of the PNM and I know that is not position of the people of Tobago...Who in Tobago is Watson Duke talking for with that?

"Madam Speaker, if you not sharing immigration control aren't you an independent country, separate and apart from?"

Rowley said Duke's flirtation with the idea of secession will find its way into the heart of the UNC who, if in government, would grant the wish.

In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, PDP deputy leader Dr Faith BYisrael said Tobago must be given the right to keep its options open.

"Yes, I think that is the point of autonomy – to choose whatever you wish. It is up to the people on the ground to make the choice for themselves.

"Whatever Tobago wants to do – whether it is to stay with Trinidad, or have a federal government, or an association like how the Eastern Caribbean has same currency but are separate countries, or you want to go on your own, which is a choice Tobagonians have. Not saying we want one or the other or want to leave now, but that choice should be a choice we can make."

BYisrael lamented the two days of debate in Parliament between the PNM and the UNC.

"It is a sad showing of the kind of colonialism Tobago has had to deal with for quite some time. You have two very Trinidad-based parties having full discussion about what is right for Tobago without the input of the people of Tobago who have to live with the consequences of their decision."


"PDP: Autonomy insufficient, Tobago must keep options open"

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