THA’s power tested

By Elizabeth Williams & Kinnesha George
Story Created: Jan 14, 2014 at 10:25 PM ECT
Story Updated: Jan 14, 2014 at 10:25 PM ECT 
 

COURT action is underway between the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and the Attorney General and the State of Trinidad and Tobago over supremacy and control over the running of affairs in Tobago. The issue relates to the National Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme (NRWRP).
The THA is suing the Attorney General and the State of Trinidad and Tobago on a Construction Summons for the High Court to determine the interpretation and effect of the THA Act 1996.
The case began last Tuesday before the Honourable Justice Hannays.
Speaking to the media, the former Secretary of the Division Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment (DAMME), Gary Melville claimed that the NRWRP appointed private contractors to carry out the reforestation programme on the island which was previously run by three community-based groups in east Tobago. The groups employed around 100 people.
He said the reforestation programme is headed by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, but is being directed by the DAMME under the THA, due to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) stipulated under the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act.
Melville claimed that the new NRWRP contractors had illegally removed the management of the programme and employed its own staff.
“Under the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act No 40 of 1996 the Assembly was responsible for state lands, forestry and the environment and therefore it will enforce its authority and not allow unauthorised persons to carry out any activity it deemed unlawful in the forest,” added Melville.
Speaking to Tobago News, Attorney Martin George, who is representing the state and the Attorney General, stated that this is the first major test for the 1996 THA Act, which was enacted as an improvement on and replacement for the previous 1980 THA Act.
The shortcomings of the 1980 Act were glaringly exposed in the early eighties in the case of THA vs AG whereby the THA sought to challenge the authority of Central Government to impose its own policy directives upon the THA and locate an outpatient psychiatric clinic up at Fort George, a prime tourism site in Tobago.
The Judgment of Justice Mc Millan in that matter, ruled overwhelmingly in favour of the Central Government especially as it relates to question of whether the THA can set and dictate its own policy on certain matters or whether it must be subject to the overall guidance and direction of the Cabinet and Government Ministers of Trinidad and Tobago.
Justice Mc Millan in that test case on the 1980 THA Act ruled that the the policy directives and guidelines of Cabinet reigned supreme over what the THA wanted and that the THA must comply with ministerial policy as set or laid down in Trinidad.
“The consequences of this matter therefore are far reaching and wide ranging as it will affect all issues and matters and policy directives and decisions of all divisions and departments within the THA, once there is conflict with overall Government or Cabinet policy for Trinidad and Tobago generally,” Martin George said.
Appearing for the THA are Elton Prescott SC and Philip Lamont instructed by Doril Ann Beckles-Lamont.
Three THA Attorneys led by Alvin Pascal were present in Court along with THA Secretary Gary Melville. Appearing for the State and the Attorney General were Seenath Jairam SC, Martin George, Larry Lalla, instructed by Kamala Mohammed-Carter and Savitri Maharaj. Attorney at Law Avanti Supersad, along with Richard Laydoo and Dominique Pierre Louis from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources were also present.
The matter has been adjourned for written submissions and subsequent decision and judgment.

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