Sunday, February 18, 2018

The PNM’s ten points

Reginald Dumas logo34

Mark Fraser


As I indicated in my last article, the PNM says in point eight of its ten points on constitutional and legislative reform that the issue of Tobago internal self-government “must be settled to the satisfaction of the people of Tobago in full accord with their recommendations”. 

That sounds like Patrick Manning’s magisterial pronouncement some years ago that what Tobago wanted Tobago would get. Lord, these politicians.

The people of Tobago have been consulted repeatedly throughout the years—I’ve done some consulting myself—and should by now have arrived at firm recommendations on their future. I don’t mean matters political “forums” decide on and then try to sell to them. I mean matters that come from them.

But we live in a country called “Trinidad and Tobago”, and I would have thought that Tobago’s internal self-government couldn’t logically be a concern of Tobago alone, to be “ full accord” with the views of Tobagonians (resident in Tobago?) only. 

That is why I strongly endorse Keith Rowley’s admonition to his party’s March 2011 convention that “the discussion on full internal self-government is not only a Tobago issue, it’s a Trinidad and Tobago issue...” (My emphasis). I trust deliberations and debate will proceed against that background. And who knows—one of these days Chapter 11A of the Constitution, which deals with the THA (Tobago House of Assembly), may become entrenched in that document, requiring a special majority for change.

Point nine commits the PNM “to an independent judiciary...respected by all the people, and to a system that delivers accessible justice”. You can’t fault that principle, though I would have added “and quick” after “accessible”. 

It is perfectly scandalous for judges to leave the bench with several judgments outstanding—in one notorious case, 60, I’m told—and then, to make things worse, expect affected taxpayers to reward them for their sloth with exaggerated pensions. 

That is emphatically not the way to earn respect. An Express poll earlier this year of the population’s perception of public institutions rated the judicial system last, even behind Parliament. Its standing may well have declined since the pensions furore.

In point nine the PNM also “reiterates its commitment to replacing the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice”. I wholeheartedly support that. Why we persist in clinging like shameless colonial limpets to a body that has more than once made publicly clear its exasperation with our continued presence is a conundrum only an unusually gifted deity can solve.

Point ten says the PNM “has stated that the Ministry of Local Government should be abolished and...the municipal corporations...given more authority and independence, inter alia”. 

Earlier in this series I inquired about the basis of this proposed abolition. Had the party made a comprehensive study of Government activity, I asked. The answer, given in the party’s own point four, was no. But you cannot seriously approach Government and governance in so piecemeal a fashion, and I therefore urge the PNM to reflect well before voicing what it sees as policy.

Inter alia is Latin for “among other things”. What are these “other things” the PNM has in mind for municipal corporations? Here again I am reminded of Patrick Manning. 

Speaking in the parliamentary debate on the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill in July 2008, he said the PNM was “afraid of devolution in a society as plural as this”; he much preferred decentralisation. 

In other words, leave the Ministry of Local Government alone; no more power for the corporations. If the PNM has changed its position, it must let us know, and why.

Would the THA be affected by this, I wonder? In 1978 Basil Pitt, speaking on behalf of the PNM, told a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that whatever name was given a Tobago Council, that body should have essentially the same powers as its local government counterparts in Trinidad, except that Tobago would receive special attention because of its challenges in air and sea communications. PNM “endorsement of the concept” of Tobago internal self-government notwithstanding, I ask yet again: could the party define for us precisely what it means by such internal self-government?

I look forward to responses from the PNM to these preliminary thoughts of mine on its ten points.  

—Parts 1, 2 and 3 were 

published on Monday, 

Tuesday and Friday,