THA elections – Farley on PM Rowley’s call for fresh THA elections
THA elections – Farley on Prime Minister Rowley’s call for fresh THA elections
Mind your damn business!
Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has told Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to mind his business.
The response comes in the wake of Rowley’s call, in an op-ed on his Facebook page on Sunday, for Augustine to call fresh Tobago House of Assembly elections, following his group of independents’ split with the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and announcement of the new Tobago People’s Party.
Augustine had avoided comments on the issue when Guardian Media approached him on Sunday at the Tobago Jazz Experience. He did not respond to calls and also was not at two of his official offices when this media house went to seek him for comment yesterday.
However, on his personal Facebook page, Augustine posted a video of Dr Rowley at a People’s National Movement meeting saying that as Prime Minister, he stays out of Tobago’s business.
With his post, Augustine wrote: “Well just mind yuh damn business then!”
PDP leader Watson Duke shares Rowley’s view that a return to the polls was needed ,but had blamed the PM for not taking more decisive steps to ensure this happened.
Meanwhile, political analysts contended that while Rowley’s call for Augustine and his executive to return to the polls because they did not have a mandate from the people of Tobago was his political prerogative, it could not be legally upheld according to the THA Act.
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said the PM’s call mirrored similar ones made by the Opposition UNC for him to call election amid a number of governance concerns.
“That is the Prime Minister’s call, it does not have any weight in law as it stands right now. We have to be very wary as to what the law says and what the calls are,” Ragoonath told Guardian Media.
“There was another similar scenario about two years ago when we had the 6-6 tie in the THA. Although the Prime Minister had the legislation passed in March of that year, he refused to proclaim it to call an election, until the legislation was actually proclaimed at the end of July, which allowed the PNM-led THA to hold on to power for an entire 11 months or so without having a mandate.”
He argued that while Dr Rowley was within his right to make the request on ethical grounds, there was no obligation by law for action to follow.
“The question is, one must have to look at all sides and also look at the law and as far as I am concerned, the law does not dictate or direct that an election be called now based on the internal political developments of the party politics in Tobago.”
In his op-ed, Dr Rowley took aim at the behaviour of Augustine and his executive members.
He cautioned, “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 EBC.”
Political analyst Dr Winford James said while Rowley’s political statement was expected, the timeliness of it was questionable.
“The Prime Minister can’t call elections, that is up the Chief Secretary, but the question is why did he wait so long? When the guys resigned from the PDP and formed themselves into a group of independents, why didn’t he call for fresh elections at that time, why wait until now?” James queried.
James also noted that there was nothing illegal with the operation of the current independent composition of the THA.
However, James conceded that an election may be needed to ensure representation was not compromised as a result of the fallout.
“It is clear that this is not what they would have wanted, it is not the best place to be in, there are people who voted for them. The 14 constituencies voted them in, unless you do a proper poll to determine what they want and where the independents go, there are many people who support them carrying on and reforming themselves, but the Prime Minister has every right to issue the political statement.”
In a video response to the imbroglio, Tobago Business Chamber chairman and attorney Martin George also reiterated that Augustine was not mandated by law to bow to the Prime Minister’s call for fresh elections and that the population of Tobago held the determining factor for the next step.
“Legislation that governs the national parliament makes it pellucid that if you enter the House of Parliament on a ticket of a political party and you no longer are a member of that party, then you must vacate your seat and a by-election is called for your seat. If that had applied from a legal perspective, then Mr Augustine and his followers will have no choice but to vacate their seats.
“However, in the THA Act, which was crafted and drafted after these provisions were entrenched in legislation governing the national parliament, there is no such provision in the THA act.”
George maintained there was no legal imperative for one to be forced out of office. He also noted that the views of citizens on the island on representation and democracy cannot be overlooked.
“It is up to the people of Tobago, for them to decide if they wish to call upon their leaders to say ‘hey listen, we think you ought to do this over and go and seek a fresh mandate now that you have formed this new political entity. So, we have to see how they wish to treat with it.”
Yesterday, a Guardian Media team spoke with citizens across the island who gave mixed reviews on whether or not they supported Dr Rowley’s call for a return to the polls.
Last week, Augustine unveiled the Tobago’s People Party as the new entity his team of independents would operate under. The move came five months after he and other executives split from the Progressive Democratic Patriots, which secure a 14-1 victory in the island’s 2021 elections. The PDP was founded by Watson Duke, who last year resigned as THA Deputy Chief Secretary following a public spat with Augustine, which ultimately led to Duke firing Augustine and the other executive members who became independents.
By: Jesse Ramdeo