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No opposition in THA but experts say: No legal block to stop new assembly
Despite having no official opposition after claiming a landslide victory in Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly election, Orville London should face no obstacles in forming an assembly, Seenath Jairam, SC, said yesterday. “Why can’t they form an assembly? I see no reason. There is nothing in the law which says it cannot be done. There must be a way and all you have to do it look for it,” said Jairam, who is president of the Law Association.
Concerns have been raised that a minority leader is required under the THA Act and that there could be no true democracy in Tobago without the presence of an Opposition. Jairam, however, said there were several important bodies which must play a greater role in ensuring the democratic process was properly followed.
“Now is definitely the time for the PNM to become more transparent and accountable in their Tobago affairs,” Jairam said. He said the auditor general would also have to play a more intrinsic role in Tobago matters, alongside parliamentary bodies, like the Joint Select Committees which scrutinises the running of organisations.
“I am not sure if the THA falls under the Joint Select Committees but it is a good idea to have it corporated so its operations can be analysed and the public can also be made aware of what is taking place in Tobago,” Jairam said. Also agreeing there may not be any hindrances to forming an assembly, Dana Seetahal, SC, referred to the “no vote” general election of 1971 when the PNM won all the seats and was able to constitute a government.
“So if at that time the PNM could have done it then the THA also could form an assembly, despite having no opposition,” she said. Tobago-born attorney Martin George, who is also a member of the Constitution Reform Committee, agreed. He said: “There is no constitutional impediment that I am aware of which would prevent the THA from forming an assembly. It can be done.”
He noted that one of the core issues raised by the committee during its canvassing of issues affecting members of the public was internal self-governance for Tobago. “Constitutional reform could easily address that issue. There is a recommendation for an independent bench within the THA in the event there is no opposition, as in the case of today, by the PNM claiming an overwhelming.
“The independent bench would act as check and balance and also would provide a critical voice to the democratic process.” George said it was democratically unhealthy for one party to control all the seats in Tobago. “This is certainly not a good thing or is it the desire of any democratic system for one party to have total control and therefore it is critical for proper checks and balances be put in place,” he added.
THA ACT Says
What the THA Act says
8A. Immediately after administering the oaths of office to the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary under Section 8, the President shall appoint as Minority Leader the assemblyman who, in his opinion, commands the support of the largest number of assemblymen who do not support the Chief Secretary.
9. (1) Immediately after the appointment of the Minority Leader under section 8A, the presiding officer shall, acting in accordance with the advice of
(a) the Chief Secretary, appoint three councillors; and,
(b) the Minority Leader, appoint one councillor.