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Stakeholders divided on THA Amendment Bill

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Stakeholders divided on THA Amendment Bill

The latest developments towards resolving the 6-6 tie in the Tobago House of Assembly has brought mixed reactions from stakeholders.

The THA Amendment Bill was passed in the Senate on Tuesday, allowing for the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to increase the number of electoral districts in Tobago from 12 to 15. However, after meeting with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday, the 12 Assemblymen agreed to sit and discuss the way ahead, including the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement.

Political analyst Dr Winford James raised concerns about the amendment bill, noting the movement from 12 to 15 districts does not guarantee anybody the lack of an equality if there is no majority party in the house.

“Fifteen is not a prime number and since it’s not a prime number you can have in the foreseeable situation with three parties with five seats each,” James said.

James said the law had also imposed on the independence of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, which produced a report five months ago which stated that the 12 electoral districts do not need to be amended.

“The EBC law says that you can’t produce a report under two years after the report is presented. Not only that but the EBC report says there was no need to tinker or change the number of seats,” he said.

He said the EBC will now have to obey a law that has become instructive to the commission and what the Government should not do is force the EBC to do their work at a pace that is not according to established functions.

James also expressed concern that the Government had taken matters that require special majority and brought them into the amendment act that was passed by simple majority.

Attorney Martin George, who is also president of the Tobago Business Chamber, said he hopes the amendment to the Tobago House of Assembly Act may open up a pathway towards resolution of the 6-6 deadlock.

“Paralysis of governance in Tobago is not good for Tobago, it’s not good for the business community, it’s not good for the people of Tobago and it’s not good for the country of Trinidad and Tobago as a whole. So while there may be those who have differing views on the constitutionality or otherwise of the legislature, they are free to test that in the court system if they feel so compelled,” George said.

George said steps had to be taken towards breaking the deadlock and if the “legislation that is passed is one way of doing so then we look forward to it having that effect and getting back to business in Tobago.”

Crown Point Business Association vice president Shirley Cook meanwhile said in pushing forward the amendment of the Tobago bill, the Prime Minister “did not present himself as a leader should but as a political leader of a party.” She said the proposal to have both parties share leadership of the island was proposed by the NGO Tobago Civil Leaders Net.

“As a member of the Tobago Civil Leaders Net, this is what we have been articulating for some time. It’s quite refreshing. In fact, we have a document for both parties, exactly what was said is exactly what we propose in this document.”

She said she is happy both parties have put party politics aside and agreed to a “temporary solution to this impasse and then to focus on Tobago’s autonomy, which is the real crux of Tobago matter.”

However, she said Rowley moved too quickly to amend the THA Bill, “obviously without proper consultation.” Cooke said she also believes the PM met with both parties only after receiving backlash and pushback from the Tobago population.

By: Loyse Vincent

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