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Rowley on PM’s THA bill: Withdraw it, come again
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday said the legislation to amend the Constitution to provide for a system of internal self-governance for Tobago should be withdrawn and not be put to a Joint Select Committee. He described the bill as seriously flawed and “fish-with-feathers legislation.”
He made the claim in his 75-minute contribution in the House of Representatives as debate began on the bill, which was presented earlier by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. As she had presented the Constitution Amendment Bill earlier, one of the two bills promised on self-governance for Tobago, Persad-Bissessar said the legislation was to be put before a Joint Select Committee for further deliberations.
The Government does not have the required three-quarters majority vote for passage but the Opposition has said it would not support it. Yesterday, Rowley said the bill was “so bad” it would make things worse for the people of Tobago if it was approved. He added: “We are not going to take any part in any attempt to get this bill salvaged or saved because the bill is so bad, (and) when law is bad it has to be withdrawn. It cannot be fixed. It has to be withdrawn.”
Rowley said there were other serious positions available in Tobago for internal self-governance which should be looked at in a serious way. He said despite the presentation of the legislation, “the Tobago issue is still out there fermenting.” He said he did not want the Parliament “to pass legislation as it did in 1996 and them come years later, find that it had not solved the problem.”
He said, however, the matter could be solved with Government goodwill and the pursuit of the proper procedure. Rowley said the THA and the Opposition would like to work with the Government to achieve the desired objective.
He said all the positions should be looked at again and there should be extensive public consultations “and then, only then, when the bill passes through all of that — public comment and all — then you come to the Parliament and we can debate a bill that we are supporting and it can go the committee, finalise it and give Tobago, once and for all, internal self-government.”
Rowley said the legislation was saying the measures would effectively make Tobagonians worse than they were under the existing law. He said Clause 8 of the Constitution Amendment Bill repealed Section 75 but the same provision was seen in two sections later in the bill. Section 75 of the Constitution states:
“(1) There shall be a Cabinet for Trinidad and Tobago which shall have the general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament.
“(2) The Cabinet shall consist of the Prime Minister and such number of other Ministers (of whom one shall be the Attorney General), appointed in accordance with the provisions of section 76, as the Prime Minister may consider appropriate.” That same provision was contained in Clause 8 (1) and (9) of the said bill, Rowley added.He said the same legislation provided for any law passed by the THA, if inconsistent with any law passed in Parliament, to be deemed as void.
“If the law passed by Tobago on matters on the concurrent list, in any way, changes any law that exists now or any law that Parliament can or will pass, with or without consultation, the Tobago law is void. That is not self-government,” he added. He said the bill ”gives the Central Government an opening to claim rights and responsibilities for performance in Tobago which it does not now have.”
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