Political analyst Dr Winford James has dismissed allegations of illegality against the Government's move to change the number of electoral districts in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) from 12 to 15.
Acting upon the proclamation of the THA (Amendment) Act, the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) recently completed its report to amend the electoral boundaries in Tobago. The THA has been deadlocked since January 25, 2021 when the THA elections ended in an unprecedented six-six tie.
The EBC order, which paves the way for fresh elections, was laid in Parliament by the Prime Minister on September 10 and passed last week by a simple majority – 21 for and 18 against.
The Opposition, who voted against the bill, has promised to mount a challenge in court.
However, at Sunday's Progressive Democratic Patriot’s (PDP) Black Table Talks on "The EBC and Tobago" alongside statistician Dr Alvin Thompson, James said the Government and the EBC may have acted within the law.
James said: “Unless we are prepared to take the government to court and have an independent reading of the courts, I would think that the government has the authority to do what it has done.”
He said the matter needs to be looked at more broadly and the question must be asked: who is running the country?
“The people who are running the country are the Cabinet via the Parliament or the Parliament via the Cabinet – whichever way you want to see it. The government has passed a law through the Parliament and that law authorises a body, which is the EBC, to go out and obey the law.
"I’m not saying that these matters cannot be examined in a court of law, what I am saying is that the Government has had the Parliament pass the law that says we want to have three more seats. That law should serve as an instruction to the EBC. I used to think that the EBC had the kind of independence, but lately I have been reviewing my position on the matter and I’m thinking, of course to the interpretation of the courts, the EBC cannot come across as having more authority or power than the government of the day.”
He said sections 70 to 72 of the Constitution give the Cabinet the right to do what it has done. However, he said there are schools of thought that determine the EBC can act independent of the government.
“The EBC might be holding to that particular interpretation that having done a report recently, as recent as last year...it cannot now go and do another piece of research. Not only that, the government cannot determine beforehand that there is a need for three seats – the EBC has to go out there and determine that. But there is a law that has been passed by the Parliament of the land that says you’ve got to go and rearrange matters so that we end up with 15 seats, which is what the EBC has done.”
Thompson disagreed completely.
“It is clear given the way (section) 72 of the Constitution is drafted, that the EBC has statutory limitation within which it operates.
"One is that it has a time limit within which it can go back and review the electoral districts after an election. It has clear rules set out in 72 of the EBC Act, in terms of how it must operate. Rule two of schedule two says very clearly that there shall be 12 electoral districts in Tobago. That’s in the current act, so to my mind the actions of the government in this case were improper. I am not an attorney but I may dare say that in my layman view, that those actions were illegal.”