Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Facebook post on Sunday night has certainly provoked a great deal of discussion both in Tobago and in Trinidad, about whether the majority of members of a political party in a democratic country can leave that party, form a new entity, and remain in office without going back to the electorate for a new mandate.
In a social media post, Dr Rowley outlined his view that “...the executive of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has ended up in the hands of a self-serving group of independents, who, while under no legal requirement to resign their positions, have no mandate from the people of Tobago.”
The Prime Minister argued that if THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and his executive “wish to be taken seriously by the Central Government and the people of Tobago,” he should “make arrangements for an early election within the same time frame that he is making to register a new political party with the Elections and Boundaries Commission.”
As Dr Rowley has clarified, Chief Secretary Augustine and current THA executive are under no legal requirement to resign their positions, therefore, the fundamental issue is whether they have a mandate from the people of Tobago as a new entity.
Fact is, a party called the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) won the December 6, 2021 election by a 14-1 margin, almost annihilating the People’s National Movement (PNM), which had ruled Tobago for two decades.
It is also a fact that on September 9, 2022, the leader and founder of the PDP, Watson Duke, fired Mr Augustine and two other deputy political leaders but that action had no impact on their THA executive positions.
In fact, Mr Augustine and all the THA secretaries and assistant secretaries then resigned from the PDP on December 1, 2022, declaring that they “remain completely focused on the business of the Tobago House of Assembly and serving the people of Tobago.”
Furthermore, the Augustine-led THA has continued to serve the people of Tobago, even as they transition to the new Tobago People’s Party.
Do the events of the last 17 months necessarily mean the current leadership of the THA has lost the mandate of the Tobago people? From an ethical standpoint, should they seek to complete their full term as is?
In the Sunday post, Dr Rowley outlined five actions of the current THA executive which he perceived to be “warped interpretations” of T&T’s Constitution and the THA Act. These include the THA’s relationship with the Environmental Management Agency and the Licensing Division.
In both these cases, Mr Augustine has made it clear he believes these State agencies, and others, must answer to the duly elected representatives of Tobago when addressing matters in Tobago, and about Tobago.
In effect, by a series of actions, decisions and comments, it appears that Mr Augustine wants to further redefine the relationship between Tobago and Trinidad without careful, if any, consideration of the consequences of his positions and without applying the intellectual rigour required to come up with a new manifesto of proposed policies.
Having been elected under the PDP banner, Mr Augustine and his colleagues must now tell the people of T&T exactly what the TPP stands for. In effect, how would the programmes, policies and perspectives of the TPP differ from the PDP or will remain the same?