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Despers Clean 2 Tobago take over
Political skirmishes between the PP/TOP and Opposition PNM on the ground of the Tobago House of Assembly election campaign will likely pale into insignificance on January 16 when the real THA battle takes over—in Trinidad’s Parliament—on government’s legislative proposals for Tobago.
Christmas appeared to have arrived a second time for Tobagonians at last weekend’s TOP candidate launch with government’s promise of power for Tobago to make its own laws and increased funding top of its offerings. The PNM that day jammed the airwaves with two re-broadcasts of its December 9 candidate presentation at the same time TOP’s live presentation occurred.
But it may not have been enough to top government’s offers for Tobago. The most insightful manifestation of the PNM’s reaction to the plan has been its backing away way from debating government’s bill on the proposal. Indeed PP’s promises put PNM on the spot since several of them were stated in a brochure on the Constitution and THA amendments bills, which the PNM issued early last year; the PP simply upped the campaign ante.
While a two-thirds majority vote is needed for passage of the bill in the Lower House, government’s 29 seats can sustain this minus PNM support. In the 31-seat Senate, however, where Government has 16 members, passage will require at least four of the nine independent votes (or some of the six PNM senators’.)
The heavy-duty debate will, for one, give Tobagonians something to consider following both sides’ accusations that each is dominated by their respective Trinidad-based leadership. With the Prime Minister expected to lay the bill in the House on Monday, PNM’s Keith Rowley—described at PNM’s December 9 rally as the “second Tobagonian Prime Minister” and the PM-in-waiting, will respond later, PP sources said.
Apart from concerns over the administration of and necessary accountability systems for the type of unfettered powers the bill may involve, debate places the PNM in a bind since support of the proposals in effect translates into support for the PP/TOP and will shatter PNM’s credibility—and election profile—after its criticism of those parties.
Rejection however will open the PNM to being perceived as stymieing Tobago’s forward movement, including towards autonomy, which PNM boasted was its focus for Tobago. All of which is known to the PP which sprung the game-changer weeks before the THA poll, which is perceived as a pivot for change in either side’s political fortunes.
PNM chief whip Marlene Macdonald said yesterday PNM hasn’t yet caucused on how many speakers it will have for the debate. PP spokesman Jamal Mohammed said: “We want to see in the House where people stand and if they’ll put political action where their rhetoric is.
PNM’s Orville London says they weren’t part of consultation on the bill but they submitted recommendations and team chairman Hamid Ghany acknowledged receipt of their documents.” PP Senate leader Ganga Singh, however, expects Senate debate may not be concluded and the bill may be referred to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament since it is so controversial.
Since it may not be passed into law in time for THA’s January 21 poll, Singh was asked about perception that the bill may therefore appear to be only an electioneering strategy to boost support. Singh’s response: “Not at all, it’s a PP commitment and a manifesto promise. We’ll see it through.”
PNM is campaigning via ads and TV interviews “in defence of Tobago.” TOP, lobbying for Tobago’s “rescue,” also has ads targetting London. Neither side has detailed its funding sources. While Government dealt with accusations of PP/UNC domination of Tobago by limiting any heavy UNC/PP presence at last weekend’s TOP event, the PM detracted from the issue of TOP leader Ashworth Jack’s house, saying the campaign was about management of THA.
She however skirted concerns about whether management of Jack’s house construction might be applied to a TOP-controlled THA. In Monday’s opening salvoes, it remains to be seen what other currents will arise—before Government goes to Tobago next weekend to open Roxborough projects.
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