Talks for self-rule for Tobago have deepened as two of the island’s political heavy-rollers enter their third round of talks on the pressing issue on Tuesday.
And Tobago Chief Secretary Orville London has made it clear to the Sunday Express that this initiative is not prepared to wait for Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack to come on board.
Despite an earlier commitment to the discussions, which Tobago political leaders agreed transcend the narrow confines of political parties, Jack did not show up for the second leg of discussions last month, despite attempts to reach him, London said.
With the death of Tobago’s political icon and former president Arthur NR Robinson last week, the passion on the island for full autonomy from the central government has intensified.
According to London, it was what the late Robinson, a former Tobago House of Assembly (THA) chief secretary and former president and prime minister of the country, had fought for all his life.
The common platform, comprising deputy political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Neil Wilson, London and the Platform of Truth’s Hochoy Charles, a for-
mer chief secretary, is moving full speed ahead with a June 2014 deadline for a major conference to be held at four venues throughout the island that will seek participation from all Tobagonians on the contentious issue.
The conference is also inten-
ded to target Tobago parliamentarians and will seek to have the outcomes debated in the THA and discussed with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, President of the Republic His Excellency Anthony Carmona and Independent senators.
According to checks by the Sunday Express, the TOP, a minority member of the People’s Partnership, seemed to have
withdrawn its support for the joint-platform initiative, even though it was a part of the inaugural meeting on January 7, at the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel.
At that meeting, Jack supported the stand that the interests and demands of the people of Tobago must take priority over political and other considerations.
He agreed with London and Charles that a successful resolution to the troubling and long-standing issues involving the legi
timate demands of Tobagonians for greater autonomy over their affairs can only be achieved through a united and sustained approach.
Following the January meeting, there was unanimous support for another meeting within one month. According to media reports, Jack requested an extension, citing personal reasons.
But he failed to show at the second meeting on March 18 at the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel, despite the fact the meeting had been postponed for a month, at his behest.
London said, “Because of the importance of the meeting, both Neil Wilson ( PNM) and Hochoy Charles were willing to extend the time, but Jack was only making excuses. After a while, it became impossible for us to even communicate with him. He never responded to the text messages and phone calls. I believe he has been instructed by the PP not to participate in this venture.”
Contacted for comment, Jack said he has given no commitment that he will be present for Tuesday’s discussions and would not comment on his absence at the meeting.
“I have no comment to make,” he said, before ending the call.
But London has made it clear to the Sunday Express, “with or without Ashworth, we are going forward.
“At this time, we are moving beyond the political leaders to the representative groups and then to the people. So that basically, the leaders are really only the initiators of the project. We are operating on the principle that the demands of the people of Tobago are well known, but the leaders have never been able to translate those demands to allow them to be realised.”
London said the exercise at this point was to confirm what the demands are and the timing of the strategies to ensure those demands are met.
“Again, everybody is invited to Tuesday’s meeting, including the TOP. That meeting is really to confirm the actual goals and to bring specificity to the process, for example, deciding on a date when we intend to meet with different organisations.”
These include community-based organisations, the business sector, farmers and
fisherfolk, construction industry, tourism and allied industries, professionals such as teachers, and public servants, unions and other representative organi-
sations, faith-based organisations, arts and cultural bodies, including members of the steelband, Carnival and heritage organisations, and youth groups.
Issues of concern to Tobagonians
The aim of the conference is to secure parliamentary debate on issues of concern to Tobagonians, key among which was an equitable and autonomous relationship with Trinidad, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London has said.
1. Equality of status between the islands and a constitutional legislative and administrative framework reflecting such equality
2. Definition of the boundaries of each island, in accordance with the Consti-
3. The responsibility of the Government of Tobago to formulate and implement policy on all matters affecting the lives of people resident in Tobago. This would entail critical features such as jurisdiction and control over economic resources on land, sea and air that constitute the Tobago entity; the right to make laws for the island; authority to borrow on its own ability to service its commitments; the right to formulate and implement fiscal policy, including taxation measures; removal of Cabinet dominance over the THA; elimination of the conflict between Sections 75 of the Constitution and 25 of the THA Act.
4. Revised parliamentary arrangements in the areas of equality of representation for Tobago in the national Parliament, definition of the role of Tobago parliamentarians and the THA, consistency between the term of office of the THA and that of the national Government, as well as management and control for the inter-island transportation systems to reside in Tobago.
Both parties have agreed to treat the issue of equity and autonomy as the single most pressing concern of the island over the last 150 years.
September 30 is the deadline the leaders have given themselves to take the vexing issue of full autonomy to Parliament for debate.
“We are pushing for this deadline because we do not want it to become a political debate on the hustings in 2015. We are hoping for the discussions and conversations to be conducted in an environment where there is no polarisation,” London said.
“It is in fact appropriate that we should consider this issue go beyond mouthing the compliments, though well deserved, about Mr Robinson. We have to commit to walking the talk and completing the journey which he started.”
When the People’s Partnership Government came into office in May 2010, it had signalled its intent for a more equal relationship between both islands and promised “side by side and together, not one behind the other,” in its manifesto.
On Page 63 of its “Prosperity for all Manifesto”, the Partnership made it clear the relationship with Tobago would be one in which “the people of Tobago would have a major role in determining their present and future development”.
It also promised to “revisit the provisions of the THA Assembly Act and, in particular, the Fifth Schedule, with a view to granting greater autonomy and responsibility to the people of Tobago over matters that directly impact on Tobago.”