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War against Tobago

By Winford James

Let's make no bones about it. The Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill, 2013 is a wicked piece of legislation—deceptively wicked. It is the wickedest piece of legislation in Trinidad and Tobago since I was born —wickeder than Karl Hudson-Phillips' Public Order Bill. And I really, really hope it goes the way of that Bill—into a legislative burial ground so deep that even the corbeaux won't be able to find it.

This is a bill that says with a lover's bewitching charm, "Here, Tobago. Take a 6.09 to eight per cent of the national budget—a guaranteed two per cent more than you are getting now. Take a radius of 11 miles of seawater —five more than previously. Take a bigger number of secretaries and assemblymen. Go and make your own laws. And you know who to vote!''

But this is a bill that wraps these gifts in something worse than man scratch-bush, making the island an unwitting slave colony of Trinidad— a status worse than the one that it is unhappy with at present—and the TOP leadership is too besotted to either feel or see.

One of the deceptively wicked pieces of wickedness is that it pits one half of the country, Tobago, against the whole country, Trinidad and Tobago, while making it look as though Tobago will be better off with its new gifts. Cabinet is in charge of the country and it abuses that power to give a few—and cheap, as we shall see—constitutional gifts to Tobago and, ostensibly, none to Trinidad. But since, by default, Trinidad (along with the whole country, somehow) must get what is left over after Tobago's allocation, it is easy to see that Trinidad will get the whopping lion's share! But the critical point is that it is Cabinet, composed predominantly of Trinidadians, that decides what Tobago gets and not the Assembly, composed wholly of Tobagonians. Tobago only comes into the picture helplessly through its two representatives in the Lower House, its less-than-a-handful of senators, and a feckless Ashworth Jack outside of Parliament.

A second deceptive piece of wickedness is that Cabinet controls the law-making of the Legislature of Tobago and the policy making of the Executive Council through overriding powers which it can arbitrarily apply. There are three lists of areas of responsibility: a Tobago list, a national list, and a concurrent list. The Executive Council—which, by the way, remains in the new legislation—ostensibly has responsibility for the Tobago list. The Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago has responsibility for the national list, and both the Cabinet and the Executive Council ostensibly have responsibility for the concurrent list. That's on the surface. But when you look at the provisions carefully, it is really the Cabinet in charge.

How so? Well, two Sections that show this are 6(c)(3) and (under Chapter 11A) 141B(2). The former says:

"Where a provision of a law made by the Legislature of Tobago under subsection (2) is inconsistent with a) a law which Parliament is competent to enact; or b) a provision of an existing law, the law made by Parliament, whether made before or after the law made by the Legislature of Tobago, or, as the case may be, the existing law, shall prevail and the law made by the Legislature of Tobago, shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void. '' (Emphasis mine.)

Yes, Cabinet can, through the Parliament, override Assembly laws at its discretion. Before or after those laws are made!

Section 141B says more or less the same thing, especially since the determination of what is necessary or expedient is left to the judgment of Parliament, that is, Cabinet:

"Parliament may pass a Bill for an Act to make laws for Trinidad and Tobago in respect of any of the matters enumerated in the Tobago list if it is stated in the Act that the Act is necessary or expedient in the national interest and the bill for the Act is passed after consultation with the Assembly.'' (Emphasis mine.)

While it is not entirely clear how Parliament will consult with the Assembly, what is quite clear is that i) the Act merely has to state that it (the Act) is "necessary or expedient in the national interest'' and ii) the Assembly merely has to be consulted.

Amazing!

A third deceptive piece of wickedness is the defining of Tobago but not of Trinidad. According to Section 141F, the Executive Council and the Assembly will have legal and administrative control "within the confines of the island of Tobago, its offshore islands, and such part of the inland waters between Tobago and Trinidad of not less than 11 miles, measured from the nearest points between the two islands, and such part of the territorial sea of Trinidad and Tobago of not less than 11 nautical miles esured seaward from the baselines of Trinidad and Tobago, as determined in accordance with section 5 of the Territorial Sea Act, as amended.'' (Emphasis mine.)

There is a semantic conundrum in the phrase "not less than 11 nautical miles''; the meaning could be "at least 11 miles,'' in which case, we could have a shifting boundary—12 miles? 15? 20?—or simply 11 miles, which seems to be the Prime Minister's interpretation. If the boundary is fixed at 11 miles, the result will be most likely a loss of oil and gas resources for Tobago, which will then go to the rest of the country, virtually Trinidad. Cabinet is therefore manipulating the maritime boundary to box bread out of Tobago's mouth.

A fourth deceptive piece of wickedness is the constitutionalisation of Tobago's percentage of the national budget. If, as is reasonable to think, Tobago's economy grows over time to the extent that it contributes, say, 30 per cent of the national GDP, then Tobago will be stuck with a ceiling of 8 per cent of the budget, which will need a three-fifths majority vote in the House of Representatives and a two-thirds majority in the Senate to change. Outrageous!

A fifth deceptive piece of wickedness is exclusion of important areas of economic development and manpower management from the Tobago List—like tertiary education, customs and excise, air and sea transportation, airports and wharves, energy and energy affair. This is tantamount to leaving critical areas of Tobago's development to Trinidad! But alas, I have run out of space.

I have enough, though, to end with the observation that the island seems headed to becoming a slave colony of Trinidad and that Cabinet is waging war against Tobago. See what havoc prime ministerial fiat can wreak?

• Winford James is a uwi lecturer and a political analyst.

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