Saturday, February 24, 2018

The PNM’s ten points

Reginald Dumas logo33

Mark Fraser

 Part III

Point eight reads: “Tobago must be accorded internal self-government. This issue must be finally settled to the satisfaction of the people of Tobago in full accord with their recommendations.”

In his March 2011 address to the PNM Convention, Keith Rowley said that, after lengthy discussions with the people of Tobago, “we are at that point now where we can go back to (them) and say, ‘This is what you’ve said, this is what it looks like in law, what are your further comments?’ And when that is complete, we, people of Tobago, people of Trinidad and Tobago, will take it to the Parliament, enact it into law, and finally the people of Tobago will get full internal self-government by amendment of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (and we will) finally put in place the legislative description of what full internal self-government means.”

I see. Nearly three and a half years later, however, I would still like to know precisely what the PNM thinks that phrase means. What is its proposed “legislative description”? Led by Orville London, and lately with the assistance of Hochoy Charles, the Tobago PNM has come up in the last few years with all manner of reports and meetings on the subject. Fine (if expensive), but the Tobago PNM is not the PNM executive. So I ask again: what exactly does the PNM mean by “internal self-government”? Let me give a few examples of my bewilderment.

First example. The PNM chairman, Franklin Khan, was recently reported (Sunday Newsday, August 17) as saying that his party had formally adopted a motion endorsing the concept of Tobago internal self-government as outlined by the Tobago forum of political parties in conjunction with the THA. A motion endorsing the concept of internal self-government? In 2014? But what of Rowley’s words of March 2011?

And what is this “forum of political parties” working in conjunction with the THA? The PNM and Charles’ party which, on the results of last year’s THA election, is near invisible? 

Further, is it for political parties to present their views as the wishes of the people of Tobago, or is that the right of the people of Tobago? I have been hearing about recent public sessions in Tobago. If these sessions are over, I haven’t seen any report setting out the participants’ comments and recommendations.

Second example. The THA’s 2011 Bill on internal self-government says at section 29 that “(t)he Assembly may enact laws and such laws shall have effect as set out in section 4(2).” In its turn, section 4(2) says that “Assembly law shall apply only within the island of Tobago and...part of the territorial sea of Trinidad and Tobago...”

But on January 16, 2013, in his contribution to the House of Representatives debate on the Constitution (Amdt.) (Tobago) Bill, Rowley said this: “If you will have the power to pass laws, then taxation is an aspect for legislation. Are we to expect that the day after this thing is passed the (THA) can decide, well, look, you know what, taxation in Tobago is too low, so we need to collect more taxes here and we want more money to spend... Have the discussions been sufficiently ventilated with (Tobagonians) that they know what they are doing?” Not quite March 2011 rhetoric, was it. Not quite what the THA was proposing, either.

Third example. In late 2011, a group calling itself “Patriots for the protection of Tobago”, which advocated positions uncannily identical to those of the London administration, told us that the island of Tobago encompassed “up to 200 nautical miles, according to international standards”. That 200-mile figure represents the physical extent of the exclusive economic zone of independent states. Are we therefore speaking about Tobago internal self-government or Tobago independence? 

At least Tobago has made some political advances. The PNM has now finally “endorsed the concept” of internal self-government. Only the concept, mind you, but it’s a seismic shift from 1978, when the late Basil Pitt, himself from Tobago and then PNM vice-chairman, informed a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that the PNM “rejected the proposition of internal self-government for Tobago”.

What precisely does the party mean today by that “concept” or “proposition”?

—Parts I and II were published 

on Monday and Tuesday