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Charles, James to PM Kamla: Timing not right for Tobago bill
After 123 years, the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and the People’s Partnership Government are placing Tobago on freedom road. These were the words of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar during her statement in the Parliament last Monday.
She announced her Government’s decision to lay an amendment to The Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill, 2013) and at a later stage, an ammendment to the Tobago House of Assembly Act.
The proposed constitutional amendment was revolutionary and will amend a number of very important sections in the Constitution, the PM added. If passed, the bill will enhance the legislative and executive powers of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) thereby promoting the internal self-government of Tobago.
The bill would alter Sections 5, 53, 54 and 61 of the Constitution and requires a special majority of three-fourths of all members of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of all the members of the Senate to be passed. But, the timing of her move to lay the bill in Parliament is being questioned. The THA election is scheduled for January 21 and the debate on the bill is expected to start on Wednesday.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to Political Leader of the Platform of Truth, Hochoy Charles who chastised the PM and her Government for wanting to interfere in Tobago’s affairs at the peak of an election. Charles said Tobago should be able to make its own decisions for its future, just as Trinidad does for itself. Political analyst and university lecturer, Dr Winford James said the timing and manner of introducing the bill were quite clearly ill-advised and reflected very poor judgment.
Charles: Vulgarism at its highest
Anyone who introduces a bill in the Parliament while an election is in progress is “insane.” Charles, in an interview on Friday said, “It is ridiculous and absurd for the Prime Minister to carry bills in the Parliament to discuss Tobago further while an election is taking place on the ground when nobody has any time to pay attention to it. “It is a disgrace and vulgar to do that.”
He said the election was one of the most serious elections Tobago will ever face and no one knows what was contained in the bill. He said, “So while we are engaged in a serious exercise of an election, you are now debating their future in the Parliament to pass a law and we don’t know what it contains. “And you don’t think it is vulgarism?
“Anybody who does that is insane.” He said while the island was in election mode, the Government, who they were trying to fight to get power “to fix our business” was attempting to change Tobago’s status and its relationship with Trinidad. Charles said, “Tell me something, if that had happened to you in Trinidad while an election was taking place...you see what happened to Section 34?
“While we are celebrating Independence somebody moved swiftly and went and proclaim Section 34 and put us in trouble. “This is not a matter for you all to decide in Trinidad, sorry if I put it this way. “It is not a matter for the Government to decide. “Tobago must decide how Tobago must be governed, just as you in Trinidad must decide how Trinidad must be governed. “This is vulgarism at its highest. “It is vulgar! Unacceptable!”
James: PM wanted TOP to get an advantage
She could have waited to introduce the bill but Persad-Bissessar used the political platform to give the TOP a push since the party is part of her Government, James said. “Why couldn’t she wait until after? It’s because she wanted the TOP to get an advantage. “I think it is clear. She could have waited but she wanted to go on the platform and say look, this is what I am going to do now I am associated with the TOP and this is what we are going to offer.”
During her statement, the PM said the bill would be debated on Wednesday and would be referred to a Joint Select Committee for further deliberations and consultations. On this move, James said, “She seemed to be saying that in order to allay fears that the thing will be rushed...it is not going to be rushed because we are going to have a JSC consider it. So this thing will not be done...a vote will not be taken before the 16 or not during the week.”
He said the PM gave the impression that it was going to be rushed when she spoke on the TOP platform and said the bill would be laid on January 7 and debated on the 16. “People reasonably concluded that it will be rushed and in reaction to people to making that charge she said now we are going to have a JSC so it will go on beyond January 21.”
However, he said that was nothing out of the ordinary. What was important was the quality of the bill. He said more money will not make Tobago more autonomous. James said, “What makes a people autonomous? “Is it self-government?” There are areas of responsibility that they must have. When you look at the list, there are areas of responsibility that the THA doesn’t have such as tertiary education, ports and wharves, air and sea transportation.
He said those were in the national or concurrent list and were essentially under Cabinet control.
Who determines the content of the bill? James said Tobagonians should have been engaged in the consultations held by the committee appointed to conduct consultations on the Green Paper. He said, “If you are talking about a bill on Tobago, then Tobagonians should be able to take part in the consultations. “Who determines the content of the bill? “Is it the people of Tobago?
“It doesn’t seem so.” He said the constitution reform was promised on the platform but the laying of the legislations came at a funny time. According to him, it came after the THA election date was set and therefore it fell within the campaign period. He said the PM was able to promise that she would “do this and do that.”
“Now that must give the impression that you are favouring the party. “What she did was to unduly politicise...in the sense that she did it in the contect of assisting the TOP rather than Tobago and so, the timing and the manner were quite clearly ill-advised and reflected very poor judgment. “You don’t treat weighty matters like that in the way that she did,” he said.
Internal Self-Government of Tobago
(1) There shall be a Legislature of Tobago which shall consist of the President and a House of Assembly to be called “the Tobago House of Assembly.”
(2) The Assembly shall consist of a Presiding Officer and such other members qualified and appointed in such manner and holding office upon such terms and conditions as may be prescribed.
(3) Subject to this Constitution, the Legislature of Tobago may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Tobago.
(4) The power of the Legislature of Tobago to make laws for Tobago shall, except where otherwise authorised by statute, be exercised by bills passed by the Assembly and assented to by the President, and bills so passed and assented to shall be styled “Assembly Laws.”
(5) When a bill passed by the Assembly is presented to the President for assent, he shall signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
(6) A bill passed by the Assembly shall not become law unless it has been duly passed and assented to in accordance with this Constitution.
(7) A bill passed by the Assembly may be assented to during the period occurring between the end of one session of the Legislature of Tobago and the beginning of the next or at any subsequent time during the life of that Legislature.
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