The long-awaited draft to amend the Tobago House of Assembly Act and relevant parts of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution were presented to the House of Assembly on Friday by the committee appointed by the House three years ago.
Assembly Presiding Officer Ann Mitchell-Gift and Chief Secretary Orville London were present to receive the document from committee chairman Dr John Prince. However, Minority Leader Ashworth Jack who initiated moves in the Assembly for such amendments more than three years ago was not present to receive his copy. Jack who is the political leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) was not represented at the presentation.
Two weeks ago Jack led a walkout of the Minority after he made his presentation on a motion by London which called on the House to record its disagreement with the Central Government’s intention to place an alternative discussion document on the review of the THA Act and the relevant sections of the Constitution into the public domain at this time. It also asked the House to reaffirm its commitment to the process initiated by the THA and supported by the people of Tobago.
The Minority Leader has publicly stated that he was in support of this draft which was prepared by former head of the public service Reginald Dumas, a copy of which was forwarded to London as a green paper by chairman of the legislative review committee on behalf of the Attorney General.
The draft THA Bill presented by Dr Prince consists of eight parts, 79 clauses and five schedules, while the draft amendments to the Constitution 13clauses and sub clauses.
Both the Bill and the draft amendments to the Constitution propose that the THA budgetary allocation shall be no less than eight per cent of the national budget for that year.
Dr Prince told reporters that his committee had in fact met Dumas to discuss his draft amendments to the Constitution as it related to Tobago and a report sent to Senior Counsel Russell Martineau who was commissioned to prepare the final draft laws. Dr Prince said among the recommendations accepted were those dealing with percentages including the annual budgetary allocation.
Speaking to reporters after the presentation Chief Secretary London commended members of the committee for their work, never allowing their integrity and the independence of the process to be compromised.
He said his Executive Council had allowed the committee to do its work without interference and stated quite categorically that the document belonged to no political party, but truly belonged to the people of Tobago.
London said the document will be laid unaltered at the next sitting of the House of Assembly, adding that he will make it available to the media immediately. He said the public will be invited to submit their comments on the draft before it was debated in the House. Upon acceptance by the Assemblymen it will be sent to the Cabinet for transmission to Parliament for subsequent debate and approval.
He said the people of Tobago must insist that when the document goes to the Cabinet that it was sent unaltered to the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. He stressed: “Everything that has taken place so far has taken place in the glare of public opinion. I am saying that we do not want any changes to be made behind closed doors.
“This document will not be changed behind the closed doors of the Executive Council and we do not expect the document to be changed behind the closed doors of Cabinet. When the document goes to Parliament every member of the Cabinet will have an opportunity to recommend changes and convince the people of Tobago and the country why they want these changes.