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Committee seeking feedback on self-governance issue

A committee comprising Tobago-born attorneys Christlyn Moore and Martin George and political scientist Hamid Ghany was appointed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to hold public meetings throughout the sister isle in an effort to get feedback on the Green Paper on self governance for Tobago.

Persad-Bissessar disclosed this at the People’s Partnership second anniversary celebrations at Old Market Square, Scarborough Tobago on Saturday.

She said following the consideration of comments received, the Government proposes to publish a White Paper containing its policy for internal self-governance for Tobago and draft legislation to implement that policy.

Persad-Bissessar said her Government, unlike the People’s National Movement (PNM) which has been silent on the issue, was committed to delivering this promise to the people of Tobago.

She criticised the approach adopted by Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Orville London, whom she accused of trying to “bully” the Government into accepting two Bills in which the THA proposed to address the issue of internal self-governance for Tobago— one of which seeks to repeal and replace the existing THA Act of 1996.

Persad-Bissessar said she was advised that London tried to break the law as the THA purported to adopt both Bills.

“I am advised that this may be illegal and unconstitutional because it violates section 29(4) of the existing THA Act, which states in part that ‘A Bill adopted by the Assembly shall not seek to abrogate, suspend, repeal, alter, override or be contrary to any written law of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago…,'” said Persad-Bissessar.

“In any case, the Government does not agree that a new THA Act can precede, or be considered simultaneously with, an amendment to the Constitution. The constitutional amendment must logically come first, because the new THA Bill would be governed by its terms,” she added.

London’s draft Constitutional Amendment Bill, she said, was so short on specifics that it does not even mention the words “internal self-government” in relation to Tobago.

“Mr London has been trying to confuse the population and bully us by demanding that his two Bills represent the will of the people of Tobago and that the Government should simply lay them unaltered before the Parliament,” said Persad-Bissessar.

Persad-Bissessar noted that since January 2007, three separate teams, led respectively by retired diplomat and former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas, attorney Christo Gift and Dr John Prince, have consulted the people of Tobago on the subject of constitutional reform.

“The reports of the teams, which I have read, show clearly that the people of Tobago aspire to internal self-government within the sovereign democratic Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. In keeping with its policy, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago undertakes to work with them, and the people of Trinidad, to achieve that goal,” said Persad-Bissessar.

She admitted that this process was frustrating due to the lack of cooperation from London.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, said Persad-Bissessar, wrote to London on two occasions last year inviting him to collaborate on the way forward on Tobago self-government.

“He (London) declined both invitations and proceeded to publicly demand that the Central Government must carry out his legislative agenda by taking his two Bills unaltered and passing them into law,” she said.

She added that Tobago Organisation for the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack in his capacity as Minority Leader in the THA, also wrote to London twice asking that there be a meeting with the aim of arriving at a collaborative approach.

“He (London) read out the letters in the House in an attempt to denigrate Ashworth’s request,” she said.

“I wish to give public notice to the THA and specifically the Honourable Chief Secretary that the work and contributions that came out of the process would receive the fullest and most detailed consideration of the Law Reform Commission as the process evolves from the Green Paper stage to the White Paper that would represent our government’s policy on internal self-government for Tobago,” assured Persad-Bissessar.

“…We will not give up on this. You can all be assured that your dreams of gaining such self-autonomy will be realised through the efforts of your Government,” she said.

Extracted From: Trinidad Express Newspaper

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