Thursday, January 17, 2013

PM Kamla verbatim: PNM's record on Tobago

Following the 1976 general elections, the Ministry of Tobago Affairs was disbanded and Tobago was essentially punished for not supporting the PNM.

In stark contrast, as Prime Minister, I created a Ministry of Tobago Development, not just Tobago Affairs but Tobago development, to focus on the needs of Tobago and the relationship between Tobago and Trinidad.

Mr. ANR Robinson, the then Political Leader of the DAC introduced a motion in the House of Representatives.

The motion was laid on 14th January, 1977: (and I quote)

“Be it resolved: that this Honourable House is of the opinion that all proper and necessary steps should be taken to accord the people of Tobago internal self-government in 1977.”

(Hansard - House of Representatives -January 1977, pp 1149-1206) (End of Quote)

This motion was seconded by Dr. Winston Murray, who spoke of the need to preserve Tobagonian culture, while Mr. Robinson spoke about Tobago’s neglect at the hands of the Central Government and argued for the creation of an elected body to handle the administrative and political affairs of the island.

Mr. Murray made it clear that Tobago was not seeking secession.

Mr. Robinson made a stirring plea during the course of his contribution that even today remains an indictment on the successive PNM Administrations which refused to deal with Tobago in an equitable and fair manner.

Mr. ANR Robinson -

“The case for internal self-government for Tobago rests upon the grounds of:

1. The failure of the post-colonial solution of 1898. The failure lay in its refusal to recognize the special needs, problems and potential of Tobago … (Page 1194 of Hansard).

2. …. The destruction of the Ministry of Tobago Affairs by the government. This was the colonial solution of 1898. If such a solution was inadequate in 1898, then it is disastrous in 1977.

You (the PNM) cannot just destroy a Ministry of Tobago Affairs and leave a vacuum of Government, … that spells confusion, it spells inefficiency; it spells frustration …” (Page 1195 of Hansard).

On the 23rd September 1980, the late Sir Ellis Clarke, then President assented to the Act 37 of 1980 that created the first Tobago House of Assembly and elections were subsequently held on September 24, 1980.

This resulted in the DAC winning eight of the twelve seats capturing 53% of the votes and P.N.M. 44% of the votes and four seats.

Mr. ANR Robinson became Chairman of the Assembly and from that time to now, the functions and responsibilities of the Assembly have been an issue.

The response of the PNM was to amend the motion to preserve the concept of a unitary state.

Mr. Overand Padmore, then Minister in the Ministry of Finance, took the provocative but clearly erroneous view that Mr. Robinson was advocating secession.

This was a deliberate political strategy on the part of the PNM.

It was pure subterfuge!

At no time did Mr. Robinson make out a case for secession.


There was a Working Document on Constitutional Reform that was laid in this House on 9th January, 2009 by the former Prime Minister, Mr. Patrick Manning.

That document was then submitted to a Committee to conduct public consultations on it.

The public consultation process started in October 2009 and was terminated in April 2010 after the dissolution of Parliament.

There was a change of government after that and the People’s Partnership Government came to power.

That Working Document on constitutional reform tellingly did not contain any specific proposals for internal self-government for Tobago.

Prior to that there were public consultations in Trinidad and Tobago in 2006-2007 that addressed the issue of constitutional reform in Trinidad and Tobago and those public consultations at Signal Hill and at Roxborough in November 2006 saw the emergence of hostile responses to those who led the Committee at that time.

It was the hostile responses to the 2006 Committee that led the former Prime Minister to separate the issue of Tobago from the general constitutional reform process.

The reality is that between 2002 and 2010 there was more than ample opportunity for the PNM to bring meaningful legislation to this Parliament to grant Tobago internal self-government, and this was not done.

My view, and I am supported in this by many, as to why it was not done is that the PNM never had any intention to grant Tobago internal self-government.

That can be seen by the draft documents that were put out for public comment in 2006-2007 and 2009-2010.

Did anybody hear any protest from Chief Secretary Mr. Orville London about his party’s lack of attention to internal self-government for Tobago?

Not at all.

The only time that Mr. Orville London has been heard on the issue of internal self-government for Tobago is when my Government decided to honour its general election manifesto promise to deliver internal self-government to Tobago.

From that time the Chief Secretary got a voice.


When one reviews the internal reforms of the PNM in respect of their own party constitution, it is apparent that they have chosen to treat their Tobago members differently from their other members.

The national executive of the PNM is to be chosen by a system of “one person, one vote”, as we have in the United National Congress and Congress of the People, while their Tobago executive is to be chosen by the delegate system that they have now abandoned for the rest of the party.

Why must Tobago be treated differently?

Why should they be denied the right to have “one person, one vote” for the Tobago executive of the party?

The moral of the story here is how you treat your party membership is a guide to how you will treat the national community on major policy matters.

In this context, one can understand why the PNM has not made any serious proposals for internal self-government for Tobago over the years when they had the chance to do so.

In reforming their own party’s constitution, the different treatment still prevails in the case of Tobago.


Internal self-government for Tobago is not a matter for anybody to play games with.

We have addressed the issue in a long and exhaustive process of study, dialogue and discussion.

Tobago did not ask to be joined to Trinidad in 1887 and the completion of that process some twelve years later in 1899 placed Tobago in a constitutionally disadvantageous position in relation to the colony of Trinidad and Tobago.

British imperial policy was not kind to the island insofar as its laws were disregarded and the laws of Trinidad were made the existing laws of Trinidad and Tobago in 1899 and its status was downgraded to that of a ward of the colony.

Thereafter, no one really took on the task of meaningfully addressing this problem of the historical hurt until Mr. ANR Robinson moved a motion for internal self-government in this House back in 1977 after filing the motion in 1976.

Mr. Robinson filed his motion after a Regional Congress of his Democratic Action Congress (DAC) was held on 26th November, 1976 at the Caribana Club House in Scarborough.

That Congress authorized the two Tobago Members of Parliament:

“To introduce a motion in Parliament at the earliest opportunity, and to take all other proper and necessary steps to achieve internal self-government for Tobago in 1977.”

(See: Hansard, House of Representatives, 14th January, 1977, pp. 1158-59).

It is no secret that the PNM was opposed to the ideas that were being advanced by Mr. Robinson and their overall approach to his motion was clear testimony to that.

The reality is that the PNM did not forgive Tobago for voting against it in the general elections of 1976.

Tobago was made to pay a price for supporting Mr. ANR Robinson and the Democratic Action Congress (DAC) when Dr. Eric Williams, as Prime Minister, dismantled the Ministry of Tobago Affairs thereby inflicting a level of victimization on Tobagonians, the pain of which was felt for decades to come.

The bottom line is that life was made more difficult for Tobagonians and they came to resent what was done to them.

That ushered in an era of political difficulties for the PNM in Tobago and caused an unfortunate image of dislike for Trinidadians to emerge in the politics of Tobago.

We in Trinidad have always loved our brothers and sisters in Tobago.

My Government is prepared to openly demonstrate to Tobago that we understand the historical hurts that you have suffered and we intend to rectify this problem that was created by a combination of British imperial policy in the nineteenth century and PNM policy after we became a republic in 1976.

Side by side we stand, islands of the blue Caribbean Sea.

That is what my Government wants to accomplish with Tobago.

Never again must a Prime Minister be allowed to dismantle a Government Ministry out of spite for people who did not vote for his party.

If there is any Chief Secretary who has said to the population of Tobago that they will not be forgiven for voting against the PNM, then the people of Tobago must be able to see the clear link between the mind-set in 1976 and the mind-set in 2013.

Nothing has changed!

Nothing was done between 2002 and 2010 to introduce internal self-government for Tobago.

No manifesto promises were made about internal self-government for Tobago by the PNM.

The only manifesto promise on the subject was made at page 63 of the People’s Partnership Manifesto which reads as follows:

“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.”

The PNM never made any such commitment in the general elections of 2002, 2007 or 2010.

We made that commitment and we are honouring it.

The difference between the People’s Partnership Government and previous PNM administrations is that we are committed to internal self-government for Tobago and they were not and they are not now so committed either.

We can judge the PNM on this issue by their Manifesto promises for Tobago and the constitutional reform exercises that they conducted in which no meaningful proposals were made for Tobago.

This Government will undo the historical hurts of the past that have been suffered by advancing these Bills.

The PNM will have its date with historical destiny when these Bills receive their final votes in each House of this Parliament.

As a result of the changes proposed in clause 8, Cabinet will continue to have general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago

  • must now consult with the THA Executive Council regarding matters on the Concurrent List which directly affect Tobago;
  • will have the right to formulate policy for Trinidad on matters in the Concurrent List and the Tobago List;
  • will have the right to formulate policy for the country (i.e. Trinidad and Tobago) on matters on the National List; and
  • be collectively responsible to Parliament for the general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
What is noteworthy about the changes we are introducing with regard to the scope and distribution of policy-making power and responsibility between the Cabinet and the THA Executive Council is that this new provision setting forth the reduced ambit of authority of Cabinet as a result of the amendment is entrenched by virtue of Clause 7 so that any subsequent change to it shall require the votes of at least two-thirds of each House.

Section 54 of the Constitution provides two levels of protection for constitutional provisions and changes thereof.

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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