The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is encouraged by the actions of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to have the review of the THA Act and reform of the Constitution as it relates to Tobago discussed in the public domain.
THA Chief Secretary Orville London had written Persad-Bissessar on December 15 2011 providing both Bills approved by the House of Assembly and recommendations of the people of Tobago at their 44 public meetings. He also requested a meeting with her to provide further details.
The Prime Minister responded through her Permanent Secretary on January 25 acknowledging receipt of the documents and indicated that he had been directed by the Prime Minister to submit both Bills to the Attorney General for his perusal and necessary action. “The Honourable Prime Minister looks forward for continued collaboration as we seek resolution to the issues raised therein,” London recalled the response letter stated.
He added: “This I think is encouraging where the Prime Minister has indicated two things, one, that she has sent it to the Attorney General who already has a copy and our point of view and two, she looks forward to continued collaboration.
“I think the heartening thing about this is that as far as I am concerned it puts to rest the contention that the process in which we would have been engaged was a process that would lead to us not being able to bring to the attention of the decision-makers at the Central Government level, the views and the recommendations of the people of Tobago,” London said.
He said as far as he was concerned the main decision-makers, the Prime Minister as Chairman of the Cabinet, the Attorney General as the legal adviser to the Cabinet, the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and the Chairman of the LRC, they all have the document and therefore that document was officially in the hands of the Central Government and therefore merited its consideration.
London said he also wanted to reiterate the THA’s position which was supported and must be supported by all of Tobago that the Bills submitted through the THA represented the views of the people of Tobago. He stressed: “The Bills went untouched, in other words there was no amendment, there was no adjustment made at the THA level, so basically what has gone to the Central Government would be the views and recommendations of the people of Tobago as expressed and evaluated at all those 41 meetings and the three sessions with Mr (Russell) Martineau SC and so on. Therefore that must be given priority over any other document before the Cabinet.”
He said the Bills placed Tobago in a superior negotiating position than the position put forward in the proposed Green Paper and therefore he cannot see how Tobagonians can accept if the Government placed in the public domain what he considered to be an inferior document. He said the Green Paper did not treat with the burning issues like who was a Tobagonian and therefore who was eligible to vote in a THA election; does not adequately deal with what was Tobago and therefore defined the boundaries, does not deal with the question of borrowing, and dealt in a less beneficial way with the issue of the percentage of the national budget that should be allocated to Tobago. “I am saying therefore from a negotiating perspective I do not think that we as Tobagonians and as the THA have any other option but to ensure that we agitate very strongly that these two Bills be the Bills that will determine the discussion as we go ahead,” London said.
London said it wanted to make it very clear that the Assembly did not expect the Central Government or anybody to just accept what was sent in or because it represented the Assembly’s views, but those were the Bills which Tobagonians must accept and must support.
The Chief Secretary and Senior State Counsel Alvin Pascall met the Attorney General in January to discuss the document. The promised to take it to Cabinet and said that he could not pre-empt Cabinet’s decision. He also promised to visit Tobago for further discussions.