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Doh get tie up, tobago
It is not only politically unsophisticated for Tobagonians, whatever their political affiliation, to take the Prime Minister at her word on “internal self-government” for the island; but it is also counter to the history of this issue for anyone, including Ashworth Jack, to believe that a government would expeditiously meet the desire of Tobago.
Part of that history is the reality that even in the instance when Tobago-born champion of internal self-government ANR Robinson had the opportunity to influence the change he had campaigned for, his administration did not amend the THA Act to give Tobago the kind of control over its local affairs that has been called for over the last 35 years.
If Jack or anyone else were to say that such questioning would be taking political cynicism a step too far, the Prime Minister herself provided proof, perhaps unintentionally, when she placed the revision of the THA Act in the context of national constitutional reform.
Talk and some action about reforming the 1976 republican Constitution goes back to the 1987 Hyatali Commission. The document produced at the request of the National Alliance for Reconstruction government remains on the shelf. Keeping company with that draft called “Thinking Things Over” are other documents produced for governments and by private groups, including one from the Independent senators and the Principles of Fairness group established by Ken Gordon and company.
Every political party, every government since then has had constitutional reform as a major campaign promise. To say that the promises have not materialised would be an understatement: not one of those parties in government has made any serious attempt to have a reform draft come close to the Parliament.
Therefore, when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar hitches internal self-government to reform of the national constitution there must be serious scepticism as to when such an exercise is to take place. Further, if you add to it the entrenched difficulty in achieving consensus in the national Parliament to get the requisite majority to bring fundamental reform to the constitution, a ten-year time frame would be a conservative guess.
But there is need for more than a few basics on what is being hotly debated: how does the Prime Minister define what she calls the “internal self-government” she has promised to the people of Tobago? It is certain that almost every individual, group and institution has a notion of what this means and that is likely to be contrary to what the other groups desire.
It is therefore certain that if and when Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar comes to agree on draft legislation for internal self-government for Tobago there will be fundamental disagreement over her version of internal self-government. But the confusion only begins there. There is no shortage of documents, drafts and proposals etc with regard to this issue of giving Tobago the kind of constitutional relationship with Trinidad that could be beneficial to the “sister isle.”
The Seemungal draft, the drafts of Sir Ellis Clarke and of Karl Hudson-Phillips, the recommendations of the Hyatali Commission, the Justice Gaya Persaud report, the current report of the John Prince Committee, the Green Paper put out by the Attorney General and now the work to be done by the committee of two Tobago attorneys and political scientist Hamid Ghany, as announced by the Prime Minister.
Included in all of the documents would be the views of the technical legal experts, special interest groups and the Prince Report is said to contain the views of the thousands of people canvassed in 41 meetings in Tobago and Trinidad. In addition, the major political parties including the TOP, PNM, COP were canvassed. Although invited, the United National Congress declined participation.
There is also the puzzling behaviour of Minority Leader Jack with regard to the work of the Prince Committee. The record on the establishment of the committee shows that it was Jack that initiated the setting up of the group. He also signed an initial draft of the document produced. He seemed to have fallen out of love with that process, however, after the PP, inclusive of the TOP, won the general election in May 2010. There is therefore need for serious explanation there.
The PP, on behalf of the TOP and its supporters, kicked off the 2013 election campaign last weekend with announcements of projects to come in Tobago involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Are these merely electoral enticements? The Tobago electorate needs to contemplate the reality that the expenditure of billions of dollars allocated by the central government has taken place over the eight years of the PNM-led central government and THA without one step to the required internal self-government being taken.
The lesson the electorate in Tobago has to learn from this is that it should not equate expenditure, statements of commitment by prime ministers and the establishment of committees to amend the THA Act with the achievement of greater autonomy, devolution of power from the centre and/or internal self-government. I believe the young people’s phrase would be: “Doh get tie up.”
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