Let Trinidad hear THA case for Tobago
As the latest turn in the constitutional falling-out between the PNM-controlled Tobago House of Assembly and the People's Partnership administration, Chief Secretary Orville London is set to wave in the face of his adversaries a petition signed by "thousands of Tobagonians" allegedly in support of the THA position. His letter last week to Law Reform Commission chairman Samraj Harripaul, reported in yesterday's Express, should usefully call the attention of citizens in Trinidad to the tenor and content of rising sentiment in Tobago.
The present stand-off is marked by two approaches toward arriving at new arrangements for Tobago self-government within Trinidad and Tobago. The government has published a Green Paper inviting public comment, which includes a draft Constitutional Amendment Bill to "enhance the internal self-Government of Tobago". The Green Paper summarises three home-grown efforts at canvassing and representing relevant views on the island.
Of those three Tobagonian exercises in reporting and distilling ideas and offering proposals, two were private initiatives by civil-society organisations and the third a mandate by the THA, the results of which emerged in the form of two THA Bills.
The rival offerings for the future of governing Tobago thus comprise, the Green Paper seeking comment from the national public; and the two Bills passed by the THA, and now advanced with the clear suggestion of a take-it-or-leave-it finality.
Questions inevitably arise about the legal authority of the THA to pass Bills purporting to amend the T&T Constitution and the THA Act. Nevertheless, the THA has caused its two legislative measures to be published in the national newspapers, seeking public comment. Moreover, the THA, dismissing the civil-society initiatives and related proposals, claims to speak uniquely for all of Tobago and, with ever-increasing stridency, has been insisting that the only matters for consideration are those contained in its two Bills.
While a kind of national conversation is supposedly underway about the "future governance" of Tobago, the stage is also being set for bitter confrontation, with THA rhetoric already ramping up to warlike heights. "Accept the Bills that represent our views": this is the THA's explicit demand.
It is unlikely that any national government will simply do as it is thereby told, and accept the THA Bills as a done deal for the future not only of Tobago, but also of Trinidad and Tobago. The THA legislative project would controversially restrict voting rights to people living in Tobago for an unbroken period of four years. A even farther-reaching provision asserts Tobago's exclusive ownership of resources in surrounding waters reaching 100 miles.
Chief Secretary London, who claims, questionably, to have all of Tobago behind him, should come to Trinidad and make the case before the court of public opinion here for what the THA newly advertises as Tobago's inalienable political and economic rights.