Chief Secretary: Government not taking autonomy talks seriously

Central Government’s lack of enthusiasm has stalled talks on Tobago’s self-government, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London has said.

London is leading a team of Tobago officials in negotiations with a committee from Central Government—headed by Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism Dr. Lincoln Douglas—to secure autonomy for the island within the state of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Tobago team also comprises Tobago Platform of Truth (TPT) leader Hochoy Charles, Stanford Callender of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and Allan Richards, Convenor of the Secretariat for Tobago’s Autonomy, with attorneys Gilbert Peterson, SC and Ingrid Melville as advisers.

The other members of the Central Government team are Ganga Singh, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Devant Maharaj, Minister of Food Production, Dr. Delmon Baker, Minister of Tobago Development and advisers Christo Gift, SC, and Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP).

The Chief Secretary is very “troubled” by the apparent disinterest in progressing with the discussions shown by the Government team.

The teams first met on March 4, after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar named the Government team. This was in response to several unanswered requests by Tobago’s Forum of Political Parties since September 2014 to meet and discuss Tobago’s path forward.

A second meeting was scheduled for March 27 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, but was rescheduled to April 15 at Dr. Douglas’ request. A third meeting, set for May 6 in Tobago, was cancelled to allow the Government ministers to attend a sitting of Parliament.

London found it “interesting” that the last meeting was postponed so that the ministers could participate in the suspension of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in the House of Representatives. Since then, London said, he has received no communication from the Government team on a new date.

Members of the Tobago team, meanwhile, have been meeting to discuss the way forward.

“We would have done our homework,” London stated. “Based on our last discussion (with the Central Government team), we were supposed to prepare a document to send to the Government team indicating what our position is and also indicating our concerns with the 2013 position, which the government is saying is its present position.

“This is a disappointing stance on the part of the Central Government because we have taken pains to identify the shortcomings of the 2013 legislation, and the ways in which that 2013 legislation does not in any way meet with the 11 demands of the people of Tobago, nor with the intent of the 1977 resolution,” London said.

“What we were being offered in 2013 would have in some ways placed the THA in an even weaker position than it is at present, based on Act No. 40 of 1996.”

The Central Government was also supposed to provide the Tobago team with its formal position, London noted, but they have not yet done so. The Chief Secretary said he is looking forward to receiving that document.