Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tobago Self Government bill goes to Parliament Wednesday

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Debate on the Constitutional (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2012 to provide for the Internal Self Government of Tobago introduced in the Parliament earlier this month begins in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. 

Following debate in the lower house the proposed legislation would be referred to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament for further consideration. 

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had planned to take the proposed legislation to a vote before the THA election on Monday. However, she adjusted the timeline and decided on the JSC to get wide participation in the process.

Persad-Bissessar made the announcement about the debate on the proposed legislation in a speech at political rally of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) in Tobago.

She also called on the opposition People's National Movement (PNM) to support the bill, which requires a special majority. She stated that every one of the 29 members of the People's Partnership would support it.

Persad-Bissessar said introducing the legislation is the fulfillment of a promise made to the people of Tobago in the People's Partnership 2010 election manifesto, which has now become government policy.

She told her audience one of the reasons for TOP joining the partnership was because of a promise to ensure that Tobago would be treated equally and respectfully.

The Prime Minister noted that a first draft of the bill was prepared as far back as 2011 but the government delayed implementation because it wanted to hear the views of citizens, particularly those in Tobago.

A green paper on self government was subsequently produced and circulated widely for public comment, followed by at least a dozen hearings by an expert team headed by Dr Hamid Ghany of the University of the West Indies.

She said the draft bill going to Parliament has been prepared taking into account the views received. It seeks to amend the Constitution to enhance the legislative and executive powers of the THA with a view to promoting the internal self-government of Tobago.

The Bill would alter sections 5 and 53 of the Constitution and would therefore need to be passed by a special majority of two-thirds of all the members of each House of Parliament.
The bill would give the THA for the first time the power to pass laws to deal with matters set out in a Concurrent List, such as:

  • Legal Affairs, including the registration of Legal documents
  • Tertiary Education
  • Energy and Energy Affairs
  • Customs and Excise
  • Public Infrastructure, including Roads and Bridges

She noted that in formulating policy for matters in the Concurrent List, Cabinet must consult with the THA. This, she said, effectively limits the powers of Parliament in relation to making laws for Tobago. 

There are other significant benefits for Tobago. One of them is a substantial increase in the amount of money the central government must provide to Tobago. The Prime Minister noted that under the present arrangement Tobago gets between four and six per cent of the national budget. She said this would increase to eight per cent, with a minimum allocation of 6.9 per cent.

In addition the THA would have the power to pass a Bill to make laws for Tobago with respect to matters on the Tobago List, including:

  • Fisheries
  • Housing
  • Consumer Affairs
  • Culture and Arts
  • Internal Security
  • Tourism
There would also be a Secretary for Legal Matters in the THA.

Tobago would also get the right to borrow up to 25 per cent of the sum allocated per year to the THA under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP), without the approval of Parliament. It would also enjoy access to its marine boundaries from its present six nautical miles to 11 nautical miles from the baselines of Tobago.

Persad-Bissessar said the introduction of the bill in Parliament is evidence that her government has not been "sleeping on the job" and that it has kept its promise to the TOP and the people of Tobago.

She added that it is a clear sign that the PNM propaganda of an imminent Trinidad "invasion" of Tobago if TOP wins is without merit.

The Prime Minister added that she does not expect the PNM to "support such progressive pieces of legislation, given their history of trifling with this country".

She added, "The fact is, in the almost half a century that the PNM ruled this country, they did precious little for the people of Tobago".

Persad-Bissessar added, "When the bill is debated in Parliament, I hope London and London and company would tell their leader Mr. Rowley to give their support to these Bills in the interest of Tobago."

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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