CHIEF Secretary Ancil Dennis’s assurance that his caretaker executive council will hold its hand and not embark on new projects, given the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deadlock, is a moderate and sensible move.
At a time when so much in politics is disheartening, Mr Dennis, the youngest chief secretary, has administered a dose of maturity to the system on this issue. His statement on Saturday, delivered during a THA virtual event, is the clearest articulation yet of the policy of his council.
“I have instructed my secretaries that no proposals are to come at this point in time for any new initiatives,” Mr Dennis said. Such a commitment, he noted, meant “no new projects, no major projects or anything of the sort.
“We would simply continue to do those things that are necessary for the administration of the island at this time and if emergencies arise, of course, we would have to treat with those in the public interest.”
The Chief Secretary noted the law allows the current executive council to remain in place in order to ensure the island is not without governance while the assembly remains hung.
But this situation is obviously not ideal. It is purely practical. Without a clear mandate or outright endorsement from the Tobago electorate, there is no moral basis with which to underpin council actions. At the same time, there would be bedlam without a holding body capable of maintaining order until a smooth transfer of power occurs or a fresh mandate is given.
Caretaker governments and the moral limits placed upon them are common within democratic traditions all over the world. For example, governments regularly hold their hand before elections when it comes to any measure that might affect a new administration. Additionally, board members resign to give the incoming government free rein.
Where Mr Dennis might encounter difficulty in the implementation of his prudent directive is in the leeway he envisions being given for “ongoing projects” that predate the election.
At any given moment, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of such projects within a single government department at various stages of completion, ranging from a memo on a proposal awaiting approval to a planned handing-over ceremony for a completed construction project.
In theory, just as the caretaker administration is limited in what actions it can take, because it has not received an outright mandate from the people, so too could it be assumed that not all ongoing projects were similarly not ratified by that electorate.
Mr Dennis would do well to specify that only substantially advanced projects, for which there is some peril, major cost or substantial inconvenience involved in stopping them, will proceed.
Ultimately, however, we would prefer this entire impasse, now in its sixth month, to be over so that Tobago can get back to business with a fully functioning, democratically empowered THA.