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London on absent minority leader: President can call seat vacant

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
PNM deputy leader Orville London, right, celebrates his party’s Tobago House of Assembly victory in Scarborough on Monday night, while TOP leader Ashworth Jack, left, looks dejected after his party’s defeat. Photos: MARCUS GONZALES

There is no minority leader but this is not going to prevent the victorious Orville London-led slate from the PNM’s Tobago  Council from being inaugurated as the new Tobago House of Assembly tomorrow. “My lawyers have said there is nothing to prevent the THA from functioning without a minority leader and a minority council.”


London said yesterday, as questions arose as to whether the THA Act allowed an assembly to be constituted without a minority leader in the wake of the PNM’s 12-0 sweep over the Tobago Organisation of the People in Monday’s THA election.
Former minority leader, TOP leader Ashworth Jack, lost his seat in the election. It is the first time in the history of the THA this has happened and there is now no minority leader.


But London, who held the post of Chief Secretary for the last three terms, said that would not stop him from being sworn in as a new assemblyman tomorrow and carrying out his fresh mandate. After spending yesterday consulting legal experts on the matter, after the legality of the dilemma was raised in several quarters, London said: “Based on the legal advice I have, not having a minority leader is not going to prevent the assembly from being inaugurated or functioning.”


London said he was told the President would merely have to indicate there was a vacancy for the position of minority leader in the THA, “which will be filled at some time.” Asked how and when that would occur, given the fact that no TOP member secured a seat, London said:  “The only way in this situation is if somebody crosses the floor.”


He said the situation put the THA in a position where it would now be challenged in determining how it could democratise a situation that was never envisaged when the THA Act was enacted. There is no clause in the THA Act of 1980, which was replaced by the 1996 THA Act, which deals with a situation where there is no minority leader.


The act states the THA shall comprise 12 assemblymen and that the Chief Secretary is the one whose party holds the majority of seats. The process has been that the minority council comprises members of the party holding the lesser number of seats. The minority council elects the minority leader. Some Tobago residents expressed fear that unprecedented situation would give London autocratic rule on the island.


But noting the importance of a minority leader in the THA, London assured attempts would be made by the new administration to find ways to democratise the way it governed.


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