Tobago House of Assembly.
Assemblymen of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) have commended the three political leaders who participated in discussions on full autonomy for Tobago at their historic meeting on January 7.

It was the first time that the leaders, Orville London of the People’s National Movement, Ashworth Jack of the Tobago Organisation of the People and Hochoy Charles of the Platform of Truth got together “to discuss Tobago peoples’ business”.

In moving a Motion at Thursday’s plenary sitting of the Assembly to commend and support the decision of the leaders to collaborate in the pursuit of full autonomy for Tobago, London recalled that that the struggle started more than five decades ago and involved stalwarts like APT James and ANR Robinson. London also quoted extensively from Parliament’s Hansard during debate on a Motion by Robinson in April 1977 which culminated in Act No 37 of 1980.

London said efforts were now deliberately being made to have the issue of self governance for Tobago off the national agenda, but “just as Robinson said in 1977 regardless of what happens we the people of Tobago, we the representatives of Tobago have to ensure that the issue of internal self government is never off the national agenda and we have got to put it back there”.

He recalled that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said the issue of self government for Tobago was dead and asked “are Tobagonians going to accept that”.

He said the struggle continued between 1980 and 1996 resulting in Act No 40 of 1996 which did not involve Tobagonians in any insignificant way; it did not involve the THA in any significant way. In a real sense Act No 40 of 1996 Act was foisted on the Tobago House of Assembly, there was no meaningful involvement, there was no debate, and there was no discussion as they were having in the Assembly today.

London said the people of Tobago now had an opportunity to be involved in the process and could not afford to falter because of the lack of collaboration and disunity. He added that people had to make a choice whether political loyalty to Tobago would take precedence over loyalty to party. “If we do not understand that it was disunity that prevented us from achieving our objective; if we do not understand that the only way Tobago will have a voice is if Tobago speak with one voice; if we do not understand that if we shout across the waters saying different things the message would become distorted on the other side,” he said.

He said the leaders agreed to meet in a month of that meeting and without pre-empting any of their decision he plan to recommend to them that they meet with the various sectors in society to discuss the issue. He said following this the concerns of the people will climax with a conference of citizens whose objective would be to determine the role and process by which the people, their communities and civic institutions can meaningfully influence the executive to promote a more collaborative approach to good governance.

London said he considered it quite significant that the House was debating the Motion on the anniversary of the inauguration of the present Assembly following the mandate received from the people of Tobago, after a very intense campaign involving two major political parties.

Finance and Enterprise Development Secretary Assemblyman Joel Jack said under the current arrangement the administration was shackled to develop the island. He said the Assembly had received less than 25 per cent of its development requests between 2006 and 2010 while the situation was the same for the first two years of the 2013 to 2017 development plan.

Jack said the Assembly had to move beyond the Dispute Resolution Commission’s recommendation if it was to pursue its development plan in a meaningful way. He added that it was time to explore all the options available to it to secure funding to finance development.

He said the Assembly needed access to raise funds for development and was preparing a case to return to the Minister of Finance for permission to go to the Bond market for funding.

Other speakers in the debate were Community Development and Culture Secretary Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus and Assistant Secretaries Deon Isaac and Handel Beckles.