THA approves self-government draft bill

THA Chief Secretary Orville London believes Tobago is getting close to securing the self-government it has been seeking for four decades.

The final draft bill on Tobago’s self-governance was accepted by the legislature of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) on Thursday night (October 27).

This was after almost six hours of discussion at the plenary sitting. The bill was presented by Chief Secretary London will now be forwarded to Cabinet, after which it is expected to be debated in Parliament.

Open discussions were held on the bill as London removed the “whip” for the session. Secretary of Public Utilities and Infrastructure Gary Melville took up the offer “to express some caution as it raises concerns about the overall cost of our governance among others”.

Melville added: “We have to be careful that the cost of governing Tobago is not too high. To have a People’s House as proposed in the Bill would increase cost.”

He said: “We must be reasoned and measured in treating with this, remembering that we are 116 square miles in area with a population of 60,000 persons, with already two MPs and as proposed by the bill, 15 Assemblymen and four Councillors”.

Melville, however, has given his “wholehearted support for this bill”.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has promised to appoint a joint select committee of parliament comprising independent senators and members of the opposition and government to consider the bill before taking it to Parliament for a final decision.

On Thursday, London described the sitting as “an important and critical juncture” in a long and often arduous road towards self-government.

He said  there has been a “number of setbacks…and hurdles” on the journey, as well as successes.

“I think that we are at a point where we can say the destination is close,” the Chief Secretary said.

London paid tribute to those who championed the cause of self-government, including APT James—who served on Tobago’s Legislative Council from 1946 to 1961—and ANR Robinson.

London described Robinson as “the grandfather of the movement”, who he said in 1977 gave  “one of the best addresses ever in the history of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago when he stood and made a case for self-government for Tobago”.

The Chief Secretary said the basic principles set out by Robinson then have not yet been achieved.

The latest autonomy campaign started in January 2013 when London and the leader of the Tobago Platform of Truth (TPT) Hochoy Charles initiated this round of discussions with representatives from the People’s National Movement, and later the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), which eventually dropped out.

Out of this The Forum of Political Parties was formed and held 40 meetings and consultations as well as with individuals, groups and organisations in Tobago and Trinidad on its way to drafting the proposed bill.

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