Political leaders met for the third time on Tuesday (15th April 2014) to discuss full autonomy for Tobago, but it was the second consecutive occasion that the leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), Ashworth Jack, and his party failed to attend.
Orville London observed that invitations went out to the three leaders: Hochoy Charles of the Tobago Platform of Truth, Neil Wilson of the Tobago Council of the PNM, and Ashworth Jack, to the meeting at the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel.
The Chief Secretary said it was a very productive working meeting, during which a number of issues were crystallised despite the absence of the TOP representatives. He said he had to place on record a conversation he had with the TOP leader the day before, on Monday morning, when he met him by chance at the Arthur NR Robinson airport.
London said that Jack assured him that his absence from the previous meeting was not because he or the TOP had abandoned the process, but because of “personal challenges”.
“I suggested to him that, in situations like that, he could have sent a representative, and he indicated to me that he would try to get in touch with Dr Jeff Davidson if he was not able to come to this meeting so that the TOP would be represented. They were not there; nobody was there from the TOP. I want to urge the TOP that if, as their leader indicated, you have not abandoned the process, it is time to come back on board”.
The Chief Secretary, who is coordinating the meetings, said that as part of the ongoing process, there will be four public meetings at venues to be confirmed in Bon Accord, Mason Hall, Roxborough and Signal Hill.
It was also agreed that a Secretariat, headed by former chief administrator Allan Richards who has been assisting at the meetings, should be appointed to operationalise the aims and objectives of the leadership.
London said that, at the next meeting on 13 May, the Secretariat will report on a draft schedule of ten meetings with stakeholders, and that this must be completed by 30 June.
He said the next phase will be meetings with the political decision-makers at the national level during July, followed by the recommendations from the leaders going before parliament by the end of September.
London made it clear that each of the parties in the exercise was a political entity with a political agenda and political interest, and that must be respected. “These political parties have committed to making this particular struggle the priority at this point in time, so we must have an environment in which they maintain their individuality, credibility and agenda… but at the same time remain true to the ultimate objective of achieving internal self-government for Tobago and the kind of relationship with Trinidad for which we have been struggling for very many years”.
He added that, to achieve that, there has to be some form of protocol and parameters within which the parties must agree to function.