Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is willing to engage Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine on the issue of vaccination in the public sector.
The Prime Minister has said that by mid-January, all public servants and employees at state agencies will be required to be vaccinated or be furloughed without pay.
But last Sunday, Augustine told reporters the assembly was contemplating its own way forward with respect to employees on the THA’s payroll. He said he had asked for a report on the vaccination status of each THA division to determine the way forward.
Speaking on the Rise and Shine Morning Programme on Tobago Channel 5 on Tuesday, the AG said he planned to engage Augustine on the question.
“It’s interesting that I have not received any communication from Mr Augustine in relation to this matter. I would certainly be very pleased to engage with Mr Augustine, He is the Chief Secretary, and his role is an important one, and the island of Tobago’s data, which he is gathering, is equally important."
Al-Rawi said he noted comments from Augustine that Tobago would decide its policy.
“I join him in saying that we in Trinidad and Tobago will together consider what the law is. If there is going to be lack of clarity or if there is going to be some desire to have further information, I’m sure that a consultative process will flow."
But the AG pointed out: "Ultimately, if and when a law is passed, that law is a law which applies to the republic of TT.”
He said all employees in the public sector are paid by monies from the consolidated fund of the republic of TT.
“The Chief Secretary was very careful to be quite proper in saying that 'by law' when he referred to the payments, etc, all the people of TT find themselves – if you’re in the public sector – in the same position. You are paid by the consolidated fund, that is by taxpayers of the republic of TT.
"How those monies reach into the coffers of statutory enterprises, etc, is a different issue, but this is going to be a matter of law.”
He pointed out that January 15 is approaching, adding, "We’ve received a number of very useful submissions coming from entities in relation to the stated policy of the government."
The AG explained: "This policy of the vaccination in the public sector is to be operationalised by a law. That law still has to go to the House of Representatives and to the Senate and has to come into effect.
"As the law is drafted and while it is being adjusted because of stakeholder issues, it contemplates a transition period where you allow people to come on board, allow for medical exemptions, allow for medical deferrals."
Al-Rawi said he remains open to consultation with Augustine despite his recent "disparaging" comments towards him. "I put that down to the fever of the election," he said.
Questioned whether the THA could open beaches for longer periods to capitalise on tourism, Al-Rawi said the assembly does not have the legislative power to do such.
"Unfortunately, the Tobago constitution reform process was not agreed to...The closing time for beaches is regulated by the public health regulations – those regulations flow from the Public Health Act. Regrettably, the THA does not have legislative power. It is certainly something that we aspire for the people of Tobago to exercise, but that exercise was not successful because it was rejected by the UNC in Parliament."
Al-Rawi also said he supported the "positive" decision by Augustine to relax the dress code at THA buildings.
"Anything that is administrative is perfectly within the function of the THA."