There was a time when, out of government, Dr Rowley wrote op-eds for one of the daily papers. I read them all for a variety of reasons, one of which was to avail myself of his perspectives on his experiences when he was a government minister, and another to see how he would prosecute the ideas of his idol Dr Williams, founder of the PNM in the public media. He stopped writing when he returned to government under Patrick Manning and, given the powers of office, I hardly expected him to write an op-ed as Prime Minister. So it was refreshing that he did.
I am thinking that he must have thought that the medium of the op-ed must offer at least the advantages of greater public reach and more careful composition of his message, which are indubitably legitimate aims. I am also thinking he must have big insightful things to say.
He titles his op-ed ‘The Relationship, Authorities and Administration of these Archipelagic Islands’ and writes in his capacities of Prime Minister–utilising resources in that office–and Member of Parliament. The op-ed begins with a background constituted of ‘a dramatic change of administration’ in Tobago from PNM to PDP; the continuation of a ‘Central Government of Trinidad and Tobago with responsibility for the affairs of Trinidad and Tobago with full recognition of the existence of the Tobago House of Assembly and its authority and privileges enshrined in the Tobago House of Assembly Act; and the ‘vital’ need for a ‘proper understanding and acceptance of these laws and authorities’ in the interest of ‘the expected good relationship between the two islands.’
A second concern of the op-ed is to report on a meeting between a Central Government team and a THA team. The purpose was to ‘ensure maximum assistance to the incoming administration to ensure that the business of the people of Tobago would continue smoothly and effectively.’ Dr Rowley reports that there was ‘a very successful outcome in matters of Administration.’
A third concern is to review the mandate given to the PDP by the Tobagonian electorate and to charge that ‘the elected members of the PDP … have created a situation where the business of the Executive of the Tobago House of Assembly 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.’ In essence, the Assembly is being run by people who are governing Tobago legally but who should have a new (political) mandate.
A fourth concern is that the ‘independents’ are forming themselves into a brand-new political party with the apparent aim of holding on to office without contesting new elections, which would be a rejection of the democratic principle of government ‘for the people by the people.’ Accordingly, ‘the Chief Secretary would do well to 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.’
The fifth concern is to show his concern about behaviour on the part of the Executive of the Assembly in matters of governance–relating to their ‘warped interpretation’ of the … Constitution and the THA Act–which ‘should be of great concern to the national population’, and at the same time provide five examples of that behaviour, three of which are reproduced below:
1. The Secretary of Infrastructure acting with flagrant disregard of the EMA Act.
2. The Chief Secretary publicly supporting the illegal action of the Department of Infrastructure on the grounds that the EMA Act does not apply in Tobago and it is the THA that gives instructions to the EMA which that agency must follow.
3. The filing of a Motion in the Assembly, by the Chief Secretary, with the purported aim of encouraging the constant and repeated breach of the EMA Act in wilful disregard of the law.
Finally, a sixth concern is the need to avoid an approach that could cause ‘unnecessary, unproductive discord and numerous expensive and destructive outings to the court for adjudication, clarification and more.’ Better for the THA to ‘respect the–Central Government’s sense of–limits of its authority.
Unfortunately, there are no big insightful ideas here, and this is a big disappointment after the Prime Minister has been in government for so long. His message is unspectacularly two-pronged. The first prong is that the THA independents have lost their mandate and must acquire a new one through fresh elections. The second prong is that they must also respect the limits of the law (as he sees them). There is no examination of how new elections, without legal changes, would end the autocracy of the Chief Secretary–and, inevitably, Prime Minister–function and bring the democracy that would place the people structurally at the centre of the governance process. Merely changing governments–if that were to happen–would not change the price of cocoa.
More of this anon.
Winford James is a retired UWI lecturer who has been analysing issues in education, language, development, and politics in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean on radio and TV since the 1970s. He also has written hundreds of columns for all the major newspapers in the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org