Primw Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar table the government's Tobago self government bills in Parliament Monday and announced that following the debate on January 16 the bill would be sent to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) for further deliberations.
"What this means", she said, "is that there would be more time for further discussions and consultations in order to obtain the consent and support of all members of Parliament and the people of Trinidad and Tobago."
The PM's speech is transcribed below:
By our actions today we put Tobago first.
After 123 years, the TOP and the Peoples’ Partnership are placing Tobago on freedom road.
Both these proposed amendments would seek to give effect to the policy of my Government to confer meaningful internal self-government for Tobago.
Citizens would recall that, in the run-up to the May 2010 General Election, the People’s Partnership promised that, if elected, it would …and I quote:
“Revisit the provisions of the Tobago House of Assembly Act, and in particular, the Fifth Schedule, with a view to granting greater autonomy and responsibility to the people of Tobago over matters that directly impact on Tobago.” …end of quote.
That pledge can be found on page 63 of the People’s Partnership Manifesto, under the rubric, “TOBAGO, SIDE BY SIDE.”
The Manifesto was adopted as government policy.
Today, having engaged in extensive consultation, dialogue, preparation and revision of proposals, we are ready and we come before this Honourable House to fulfil yet another promise to the people – this time to the people of Tobago, as we put Tobago first.
In 1768 Tobago had established a bicameral legislature with a Lower House called the Legislative Assembly and an Upper House called the Legislative Council.
This legislative structure would be adversely affected by the imperial and constitutional developments of the nineteenth century which would see Tobago taking retrograde and subservient constitutional steps pursuant philosophy of integration with a neighbouring British colony called Trinidad.
As a result of the Trinidad and Tobago Act 1887, the two colonies were merged as one under the authority of an Order-in-Council that came into effect on 1 January, 1889.
This Order-in-Council also provided for the abolition of the Legislative Council of Tobago.
The unification of these two British colonies created the need for the British Government to establish a single legislature for the twin-island colony and also to ensure the continued operation of all laws in force in Trinidad and all laws in force in Tobago.
To achieve that objective, an Order-in-Council came into force on 1 January, 1899.
This Order-in-Council made Tobago a ward of the colony of Trinidad and Tobago. It also provided that all laws that were in force in Trinidad on 1 January, 1899 would also extend to Tobago and that all laws that were in force in Tobago at that date, which differed from the laws of Trinidad, ceased to be in force. The Legislature in Trinidad became the Legislature for the twin-island colony and all future laws passed by Trinidad were deemed to extend to Tobago.
This marked the actual creation of the unitary colony of Trinidad and Tobago.
This final act of unification took place during the governorship of Sir Hubert Jerningham who became the Governor of Trinidad and Tobago in 1897.
This brief history provides the genesis of the exclusion of legal joinder and subsequent exclusion of Tobago from the process of government for the twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago.
When the British Government politically and constitutionally unified Trinidad and Tobago, it made a decision that would have profound ramifications for the twin-island colony long after its unification.
The political, psychological and legal effects of this unification continued to manifest themselves in the post-independence era of the twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago.
The marriage of Tobago to Trinidad did not lead to the creation of two equal partners with an appreciation for the unique and distinct aspirations, identity and dreams.
Indeed, the peaceful co-existence of our twin island Republic has been characterized by the constitutional subjugation and subservience of Tobago.
The political dominance of the PNM during 1956 to 1986 meant that it did not need the political support of Tobago to form a Government.
The PNM gained an easy and comfortable political electoral majority in Trinidad.
It was thus able to form the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in isolation and ignore the development of the people of Tobago.
Tobago has therefore traditionally been treated as an annex of Trinidad or a local government district.
The current proposal, as outlined in the Green Paper, for the creation of a Tobago Legislature to enact laws that shall have effect in Tobago is a natural progression along the continuum of self-government that includes the reforms of 1980 and 1996.
The environment in which the public consultations were held must be understood in the context, not only of the long history of political disadvantage that Tobago has suffered owing to the decisions of imperial powers, but also in the context of our recent history.
After the 1976 general elections when the two People’s National Movement (PNM) candidates in Tobago lost their seats to the two Democratic Action Congress (DAC) candidates, there was a hostile response from the then Prime Minister.
The Ministry of Tobago Affairs was disbanded and Tobago was punished for not supporting the PNM.
The response of ANR Robinson, the then Political Leader of the DAC, was to introduce a motion in the House of Representatives that was laid on 14 January, 1977 to take steps to accord the people of Tobago internal self-government.
The response of the PNM was to amend the motion to preserve the concept of a unitary state.
The PNM adopted the view that the DAC was advocating secession and this became the PNM line against the DAC proposal.
After the establishment of the THA in 1980, the PNM was defeated in the elections that followed and Robinson became the first Chairman of the THA. He built a movement for further autonomy for Tobago on the momentum created by the PNM-controlled Central Government in Port-of-Spain of neglect for Tobago.
For 16 years no meaningful reform took place to advance the cause of autonomy for Tobago between 1980 and 1996.
Under the UNC-NAR coalition more significant change for Tobago came in 1996, (16 years later) when the current THA Act was enacted.
Nothing tangible happened on the constitutional reform front in respect of advancing the cause of internal self government for Tobago during the watch of the PNM from December 2001 to May 2010.
It is in this broad historical context that the current tensions/rift between Trinidad and Tobago must be understood.
This can best be summarised as a deep-seated Tobagonian desire for self-government based on a history of colonial and post-colonial neglect and disadvantage alongside a Central Government that sought to punish the island after the 1976 general election and further sought to stymie the self-government movement by raising the spectre of secession.
SHAPING THE PROCESS
Sixteen year later (1996 to 2012) we promised and now we will deliver. In keeping with my Government’s philosophy of participatory democracy, a Green Paper was published for public comment in February 2012.
We then appointed a committee to conduct public consultations on the Green Paper across Tobago and Trinidad.
The Committee was led by Dr. Hamid Ghany, political scientist, and included attorneys at law, Martin George and Christlyn Moore (who is now the Minister of Justice).
Those consultations were held during June and July 2012, after which the Committee submitted its report on 18 September 2012.
Following review, my Government accepted the recommendations set out in the Ghany Report.
Consultations were held in both Tobago and Trinidad as the Government was of the view that the constitutional relationship between our islands was a matter for the people of BOTH islands.
There are many in the past who took a different view of these proposals based on limited consultations restricted to one island; that cannot be right and was not in keeping with the philosophy of one people, two united, but different islands of my Government.
These recommendations were based on a consideration of the views of persons who attended the public consultations, those who made written submissions, as well as the views of the Tobago House of Assembly (which had submitted its own draft Bills and recommendations to the committee on 19 July 2012, AFTER a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel that same day).
Confirmation of this submission by the Tobago House of Assembly through its Chief Secretary is to be found on the THA web site as well as in the Tobago News and other newspapers and electronic archives of various media houses.
We recognise that the changes made to the proposed legislative amendments were driven by a broad-spectrum input of views from various stakeholders, including the Opposition, because we recognise that the issue of internal self-government is an important phenomenon in its own right.
WHAT ARE THE CHANGES?
The proposed constitutional amendment is revolutionary.
It will amend a number of very important sections in the Constitution.
It will modify the jurisdiction and authority of two organs of the State, namely, the Parliament and the Executive.
The changes will confer greater power to the people of Tobago and your elected representatives; it will limit the powers of the Parliament and the Cabinet vis-à-vis Tobago.
I am advised that these significant constitutional changes require a 3/4 majority vote.
It will therefore require the support of the Opposition.
I therefore wish to invite my friends on the other side to join with my Government in righting the wrongs of the past and bestow full autonomy and dignity to the people of Tobago.
For it is only then we can proudly say, “together we aspire, together we achieve.”
To this end, the Parliament is being asked to empower the Tobago House of Assembly to enact its own laws in respect of Tobago.
This power will be exercised through two ways.
With respect to the first, the Tobago House of Assembly will be able to legislate for Tobago in the same manner that Parliament is able to legislate for Trinidad.
There would be a constitutional protection that laws may not be passed which are in conflict or inconsistent with laws enacted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago or any law in force before the coming into operation of the proposed amending Act.
The Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly will be given exclusive jurisdiction for certain specified matters and the Executive Council shall be collectively responsible to the Assembly for the general direction and control of such policy in Tobago.
With respect to the second, we propose that the Tobago House of Assembly should have power to make laws for Tobago and the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago should have power to make laws exclusively for Trinidad.
The Tobago House of Assembly will however be denied the power to make any laws that will infringe fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Only the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, after consultation with the Tobago House of Assembly and with the requisite special majority, will have the power so to do.
To this end, the powers of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago will henceforth be curtailed in relation to Tobago.
In other words, there would be a devolution of legislative powers, albeit limited to the matters specified, from this Parliament to the Tobago House of Assembly.
Any law in force before the coming into effect of this proposed legislation and which relates to certain specified matters will continue to remain in force until such time as it is replaced by an Act passed by the Tobago House of Assembly.
The powers of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago will be curtailed in respect of the formulation of policy: to the extent that it will now be required to consult with the Tobago House of Assembly on the formulation of policy in relation to certain specified matters.
The Cabinet will continue to retain its general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and maintain its collective responsibility to the Parliament but it will now for the first time be specifically mandated to hear and consider the views of the people of Tobago through their elected representatives.
The Government also intends to provide for a guaranteed budgetary appropriation to Tobago that will be not less than 6.9%, nor more than 8%, of the national Budget.
For the first time ever, Tobago will have a constitutional guarantee for its budgetary allocation.
No Central Government in the history of this country has ever made such an ironclad guarantee to Tobago!
My Government is proud to be the first one so to do.
Many have asked why we are making these changes via the Constitution as opposed to the THA Act.
The answer is simple.
By making these changes in the Constitution, these new laws will automatically become incorporated into and therefore part of the Constitution itself unlike the THA Act.
It will not be possible for these changes to be reversed or repealed unless the Constitution itself is amended and this of course would require a special majority.
We are therefore entrenching these changes in the Constitution because it is the Supreme Law of Trinidad and Tobago as we believe Tobago’s relationship with Trinidad should be defined in our supreme and highest law.
The jurisdiction of the Tobago House of Assembly in respect of these powers being conferred upon the Assembly will extend for a distance of up to eleven nautical miles from the baselines of Tobago.
THE THA EXECUTIVE COUNCIL
It is my Government’s intention to change the composition of the Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly by specifying that one of the Secretaries shall be an Attorney-at-Law, who shall be responsible for legal matters.
The new arrangement will elevate the current status of the Executive Council to mirror that of the Cabinet in the Central Government as a consequence of the increased responsibilities being placed upon the Executive Council.
POWER TO BORROW
Through its Secretary responsible for Finance, the THA will be granted a power to borrow up to 15% of its Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) allocation to Tobago for each financial year.
It is intended, however, that a limit on this borrowing power would be imposed.
Once again, this is a constitutional first as the Tobago House of Assembly will now be given a constitutional guarantee to borrow a specified amount of its allocation under the PSIP, subject to a prescribed limit.
Such a power will, of course, also be subject to the scrutiny of the Assembly and that scrutiny will be the sole preserve of the Assembly in the interest of the people of Tobago who will ensure that their representatives discharge their financial duties with due accountability and probity.
OTHER LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
The proposed amendments to Tobago House of Assembly Act seek to make consequential amendments and modifications that will give effect to the proposed constitutional changes.
This Bill would be laid at a later stage.
We are seeking to ensure that there are no lacunae in the devolution of power to the Tobago House of Assembly.
In this regard consequential amendments are also contemplated to the Interpretation Act, Chap. 3:01 and the Statutes Act, Chap. 3:02 so that they may apply to all legislation enacted by the Tobago House of Assembly.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE
Both these Bills would be debated on 16 January and would be referred to a JSC for further deliberations. What this means is that there would be more time for further discussions and consultations in order to obtain the consent and support of all members of Parliament and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
THE DREAM COMING TRUE
All in all, these proposals are ground breaking and represent a quantum leap forward in addressing the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago. This is what the people of Tobago were promised by the People’s Partnership Government and we are today bringing the process of delivery to fruition.
Everyone has had their chance to make a contribution to this process of consultation that has resulted in fundamental amendments being made to the original proposals contained in the Green Paper.
Some have publicly called for the Committee appointed to conduct public consultations to be abandoned in favour of their own proposals, only to undertake a u-turn one month later and make submissions of their own proposals to the very Committee which they said ought to have been abandoned.
Today, they cry that they have not been consulted, when, in fact, their views were considered by the Committee. Contrary to their assertions, their views did, in fact, contribute towards shaping the amendments that were made to the Green Paper.
I take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the members of the Committee for their excellent work, which reflects them having heard and considered the views of the widest cross-section of stakeholders and more particularly the voices of the people of Tobago, and the people of Trinidad. This is consistent with my Government’s policies as we are a caring government which listens to the people and hears them.
This is so unlike the past where for decades the cries of the people of Tobago fell on deaf ears, even when those who hailed from their own shores were among those holding the reigns of power.
Tobago is entitled to have internal self-government!
It was the dream ANR Robinson expressed in his motion for internal self-government filed in the First Parliament of the Republic in 1976. Tobagonians have waited for far too long!
Thirty-seven years have passed!
This is the Tenth Parliament since we became a Republic!
I am proud to stand before you, Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members in this august Chamber, to speak to these proposals.
We have delivered on our mandate!
The hour is now!
The chance is ours!
This moment will be a landmark in the destiny of Tobago…if those with the power to make it happen recognize the proposed paradigm shift is not about one-upmanship, rather about doing what’s right and long overdue!
I urge all members of this Honourable House to join us as we move with determination, purpose and vigour to remove the historical hurts that have been inflicted on the beautiful island of Tobago for over one hundred and twenty-three years!
Consensus and not division will heal those hurts!
Today at this historic juncture, my government stands proud not only of fulfilling a scared promise of our manifesto, but taking one giant step in bringing self government and self determination to the neglected and alienated citizenry of our beloved sister isle.
As we usher in a new dawn for the people of Tobago we pledge our support, our commitment and re affirm our historical and emotional bond which will stay forever strong.
There is nothing to fear, there is nothing to lose.
A special word for those of us from Trinidad, I assure you that there is nothing to fear and there is nothing to lose.
Tobago’s freedom beckons. Self determination for Tobago speaks to the maturity of the democracy of Trinidad and Tobago.
Let us put the past behind us and move forward to a brighter dawn!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker!