Sunday, December 23, 2012

Commentary: Self government bill could change the agenda in THA election campaign

The campaign for the Tobago House of Assembly election on January 21 has been a tame affair so far with few policy issues coming from the main contenders - the People's National Movement (PNM) led by Orville London, seeking a fourth consecutive term, and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) under the leadership of Ashworth Jack.

There have been some troubling undercurrents, the most damaging of which has been racist talk from PNM supporters who have been saying a vote for TOP is a vote for the People's Partnership government and a domination of the island by Indians.

The real talk has been much nastier and not fit to print. The national media have also made a big fuss over the house that Jack built with his own money, suggesting without offering any evidence, that something was not right.

And they have put on the back burner an issue that was first raised in a newspaper column by retired head of the public service Reginald Dumas and later put on the agenda by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

It's an issue that is bound to come back into the campaign as Jack tries to unseat London and take charge of the THA. The issue concerns  what appears to be a sweetheart deal involving the PNM and companies affiliated to a former PNM cabinet minister.

Both London and the former minister have said everything has been legal but there are some blurry areas in the whole deal who apparently started with the sale of some land to the THA.

Here is what Dumas wrote in Seeptember this year:
"Some documents recently reached my mailbox. They are a great puzzlement. One of them is a deed dated November 15, 2011, which records—or witnesseth, in deedspeak—the purchase of three acres of land for the sum of TT$12 million by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) from a company called Dankett Ltd.

"A second document gives Dankett's directors as Anthony Rahael, Joseph Rahael, John Aboud and Michael Aboud.

"A third document is dated November 21, 2011, six days after the THA purchase. In this document, the THA leases the land it has just bought to a company called Milshirv Properties Ltd for a period of 199 years, beginning December 1, 2011, at an annual rental of $10. That's right: $10. 
A fourth document gives Milshirv's directors as Joseph Rahael and John Aboud.

"According to the lease document, Milshirv is "to construct an office building and facilities (being 82,954 sf over three floors in extent)... on completion of (which), (Milshirv) will lease (them) to the (THA) for a term of 20 years..."All rates, taxes and assessments" on the premises are to be paid by the THA. I expect that $10 a year would cover those costs nicely.

"Attached to, and forming part of, this document are drawings and designs of the proposed facility. They were done by Amera Caribbean Development Ltd, which in the telephone directory bears the same address as the ones in the documents for the directors of Dankett and Milshirv. A coincidence, I expect. We experience that phenomenon all the time in this country.

"Questions arise which I need help to answer satisfactorily. For instance, why would the THA, which never tires of telling us about all the Tobago land it says it has acquired over the last several years in the interest of the people of Tobago, purchase even more land merely for administrative offices (the Division of Agriculture)? 

So far the THA has skirted around the issue with all manner of distractions and statements and the focus on Jack's house is part of that distraction.

However, you can expect some fireworks to come, especially when the central government introduces in Parliament a draft bill on self-governance for Tobago.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told reporters in Tobago on Friday she has instructed Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to lay the bill in Parliament before the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election. 

Speaking to the media after a cabinet meeting at the Coco Reef resort, she said, "I have given instructions to the Attorney General that I would like to see the bill laid early in January." She was clear that by "early" she meant ahead of the THA vote.

She was not saying much about the proposed bill but you can expect to hear a lot about it in the next two weeks.

By introducing the bill now she is putting London and the PNM on the spot. And she is boxing in PNM national leader Keith Rowley as well since Rowley would have to decide if to support the bill or not.

Can he vote it down and still expect to convince Tobagonians that he cares about them and their future? And can London support such a measure when he has previously said he won't?

London is already outlining his position on the proposed legislation. "I think I know Tobagonians well enough to believe they would treat it with the contempt it deserves," London told the Guardian newspaper. He is angry not because of what the bill says or does not say but because in his opinion the people of Tobago did not have enough input in it.

London added, "The PM, the Attorney General and the TOP have taken a position on internal self-governance for Tobago that is totally out of sync with the wishes of the people."

The move could put the Tobago PNM and the national party on a collision course and change the agenda for the Tobago vote. And that's not only on the issue of self government but also on the play on race at a time with Rowley and the PNM are trying to rebrand themselves as all inclusive. 

For her part Persad-Bissessar believes that a key issue in this campaign is whether after 12 years under the PNM things are better for Tobagonians. The answer that Jack and TOP are giving is clear: NO.

Expect the temperature to rise significantly after Christmas. The parties are taking a few days off before resuming their respective campaigns. And when the flags fly again Persad-Bissessar will join her partnership colleague, Jack, to present the TOP candidates at a rally in Tobago on December 30.

Jai Parasram - 22 Dec. 2012

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai