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Another broken promise?

By Winford James

So it will not happen after all. I mean, internal self-government for Tobago in a federal framework. If it has not happened in two and a half years, how can it happen in 61 days?

A green paper has been published with a bill proposed on the matter. A committee comprising Hamid Ghany, Martin George, and Christlyn Moore has been set up to reconcile this bill and the competing one from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) executive council. And nothing has yet been taken to Parliament.

Let's talk a bit about that three-person committee. When its establishment was announced, there was no specification of its brief or its modus operandi, only that it had a reconciliation function.

It was immediately assailed by Chief Secretary London who queried the credibility of Martin George, accusing him of rabid bias against the PNM executive council as expressed in some of George's newspaper columns.

And there were others who doubted the objectivity of Ghany, suggesting that he was politically sympathetic to the People's Partnership Government. I don't recall any negative reaction to Moore. But when she replaced fall-guy Volney as Minister of Justice, it became clear that she too was not an objective choice.

One does not know if the committee is still functioning, especially as Moore is now Minister, but it is now abundantly clear that at least two of its members were anti-PNM if not pro-PP/Tobago Organisation of the People. The committee is tainted and can therefore not be expected to be able to objectively reconcile the two bills.

If the bills are not reconciled, what will be taken to parliament? Our best answer is the one in the green paper or some amended version of it. But when it will be taken is anybody's guess. Is the government bold enough to take it during the election campaign? I don't think so since they won't want to risk any of the following: too many voters accusing them of trampling on the legitimacy of the THA as an institution in both law and the Tobagonian political soul; diverting the electorate from a focus on PNM accountability and corruption issues; invoking the charge of naked political opportunism; calling attention to their long list of missteps.

So they will take it to the Parliament after the elections. But since it will be far easier to do so if the TOP wins control of the THA, how motivated will they be if the TOP loses?

I thought the idea was to prosecute the requisite legislation before the THA elections so that the winning party would preside over a self-governing Tobago within a federal government. And I thought the TOP wanted that.

But I was clearly naïve and unrealistic, forgetting that: i) constitution reform 'takes a lot of time', as one party official tried to persuade me; ii) the PP did not promise to institute the reform before the THA elections, only to take steps to institute it (according to the same official); iii) the party was far being an exemplar of the democracy needed to transform the island, installing autocracy and alienating many of its ideologues and knowledgeable people; iv) the PP had taken no steps to engage the Trinidadian populace in a constitutional discourse like the one that had consumed Tobago in the lead up to the two bills.

It seems also to be the case that the PP government is more than a little timid about misstepping on the issue of Tobagonian (and, ineluctably, Trinidadian) internal self-government in the light of its litany of missteps, especially, most recently, Section 34. They literally fear adding this issue!

So since the TOP cannot take to the campaign 'An Act to Grant Tobago Internal Self-government within the Federation of Trinidad and Tobago', what can it take?

The argument that the five years is not finished yet and that the promise is still intact? The employment of the two MPs as ministers of government? The appointment of Tobagonians to state boards and committees? The spending of millions on central government projects in the island?

What?

Back in April 2012, as a consequence of the Marlene Coudray debacle, the PP leaders issued statement of unified intent that included the following: 'The leaders, in our several meetings, have also discussed a number of other crucial issues relating to the functioning of the Partnership and the Government, and have agreed that actions are to be taken on the following matters: 1. rules of engagement of the parties within the Partnership; 2. fair share of resources to communities 3. resolving of the concerns of important sectors of the national community 4. improving the governance of the country by implementing our manifesto commitments with specific reference to our statements that:

·the economy will continue to be transformed through a political system that will be more responsive and participatory.

·we will have clean, responsible and responsive government with legislative changes and constitutional amendments to curb excesses and abuse of power. We reaffirm our emphasis on transparency and accountability.

·There will be a greater emphasis on collaborative approaches to facilitate consultation, participation, involvement and consensus-building. This will help us to achieve unity of purpose in our efforts and partnership and trust in the society.

As recently as April, therefore, the PP leaders, Ashworth Jack included, were not too concerned about constitutional reform and self-government for Tobago. There is nothing explicit about it in any of the four matters above, though it MIGHT be implicit in matters 2 and 3 (if you want to stretch meanings!).

You betting the thing will come by 2015? Or will it be another broken promise?

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