Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday that the Tobago Bill will be debated next Wednesday and referred to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament for further deliberations.
In a statement to Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said this would enable more time for further discussions and consultations in order to obtain the consent and support of all members of Parliament and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
The bill, she said, signals that the People's Partnership has kept its promise made to the people in 2010 and demonstrates that her Government and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) place Tobago first.
The move to ensure internal self-government for Tobago, she said, was a dream of former president Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson.
Persad-Bissessar said Robinson expressed this in his motion for internal self-government filed in the First Parliament of the Republic in 1976.
"Tobagonians have waited for far too long! Thirty-seven years have passed! This is the Tenth Parliament since we became a Republic!" she said.
The proposed changes contained in the bill, she said, were revolutionary as they will amend a number of sections in the Constitution.
She said it will modify the jurisdiction and authority of two organs of the State, namely, the Parliament and the Executive and these changes will confer greater power on the people of Tobago and their elected representatives; it will limit the powers of the Parliament and the Cabinet vis-à-vis Tobago.
Persad-Bissessar said the THA will be empowered to enact its own laws.
The THA, she said. will be able to legislate for Tobago in the same manner that Parliament is able to legislate for Trinidad.
"There would be a constitutional protection that laws may not be passed which are in conflict or inconsistent with laws enacted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago or any law in force before the coming into operation of the proposed amending Act," she said.
The THA Executive Council, she said, will be given exclusive jurisdiction for certain specified matters and the Executive Council shall be collectively responsible to the Assembly for the general direction and control of such policy in Tobago.
"...We propose that the Tobago House of Assembly should have power to make laws for Tobago and the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago should have power to make laws exclusively for Trinidad," she said.
The THA, she said, will be however be denied the power to make any laws that will infringe fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Prime Minister also noted that there would be a bigger budget for Tobago.
She said the Government intends to provide for a guaranteed budgetary appropriation to Tobago that will be not less than 6.9 per cent nor more than 8 per cent, of the national budget.
"For the first time ever, Tobago will have a constitutional guarantee for its budgetary allocation. No Central Government in the history of this country has ever made such an ironclad guarantee to Tobago!" said Persad-Bissessar.
With respect to maritime boundaries, she said, the jurisdiction of the THA in respect of these powers being conferred upon the Assembly will extend for a distance of up to 11 nautical miles from the baselines of Tobago.
The Prime Minister added that the bill proposed to change the composition of the Executive Council of the THA by specifying that one of the Secretaries shall be an attorney-at-law, who shall be responsible for legal matters.
The THA, she said, will have the power to borrow.
Persad-Bissessar said that the THA, through its Secretary responsible for Finance, will be granted a power to borrow up to 15 per cent of its Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) allocation to Tobago for each financial year.
However she said, it is intended that a limit on this borrowing power would be imposed.