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PM knocks criticisms: cheap politicking

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Specious, hypocritical, trite, sly and cheap politicking.

That was how Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday labelled criticisms that there was no consultation on the act to amend the Constitution to enhance the internal self-government for Tobago.

She said Government would not hold its hand.

This "excuse" about the lack of consultation was being used "to prolong and continue an inordinate delay and long wait by the people of Tobago for self-government. It will only satisfy those who desire to preserve the status quo at the continued expense and to the detriment of the people of Tobago", she said.

Piloting the bill in the House of Representatives yesterday, the Prime Minister also dismissed "the false and misleading mantra" that it was "bad timing" to debate the bill "to end the political and constitutional subjugation of Tobago" in the shadow of the Tobago House of Assembly election campaign.

In fact, the Prime Minister stated that the best time to deliver a promise was when the electorate was watching very intently.

"Otherwise important promises could be lost in the clutter and daily routine. So now we have the attention of everybody, we are delivering to Tobago what we promised in 2010. If there are people who want us to break that promise, I have news for them, it is not going to happen," she stated.

Persad-Bissessar said it was not the first time in the country's history that a bill which sought to review that constitutional relationship between Tobago and Trinidad was being debated in the heat of a campaign. She said in 1996 the THA (Tobago House of Assembly) bill and the Constitution Amendment bill were debated during that THA campaign and were assented to on the very day of the THA polls on Monday, December 9, 1996. (The bills were piloted on November 25 and 26, 1992, in the House).

She said at that time neither Hochoy Charles nor Orville London had a problem with the bills being debated in that (1996) campaign, but in 2013 both men were raising objections.

"Perhaps Mr Charles (who contested a seat) had no problem in 1996 because he was confident that he would become Chief Secretary once the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) won the THA election.

"Today he is singing a totally different song. And perhaps Orville London, who resigned as a PNM (People's National Movement) senator in order to take up a nomination to contest a THA seat (in 1996) did not have a problem... because he thought he would have become Chief Secretary. But today he is saying something different.

"Today I feel that because they fear they would not have a chance at becoming Chief Secretary (in this 2013 election), they are singing a totally different song," she said to loud desk-thumping.

She said there was no reason why another debate could not take place in the midst of this 2013 election.

Noting that the PNM had taken a position not to support the bill even before the party saw its provisions, Persad-Bissessar said the PNM declared no support while continuing to express support for the principle of the bill. "It is a convoluted contradiction," the Prime Minister said, adding: "Man shall not live by principle alone."

She said although the proposals had been in the public domain, the PNM claimed not to have studied the proposals but decided "from up front, we will not support".

"Is it that the Opposition Leader is now saying that he would not support proposals that were put into this bill by its own Chief Secretary?" she asked, adding that the position taken by the PNM made no sense.

She said Government was doing what was right and best for Tobago in the context of what was fair and equitable for both islands. She said she wanted to recognise the pain of Tobagonians whose voices and cries for change echoed in the political wilderness for a long time.

Recalling former president Arthur NR Robinson's motion for self-government in 1976, the Prime Minister said the dream articulated in that first Parliament of the Republic should become a reality in the tenth Parliament. She called on all members of the Parliament to right the wrong which has existed for far too long. "If not now, when? If not us, who?", she asked.

The bill which calls for a three-fourths majority (ie, 32 consenting members) of the House of Representatives, needs at least three members of the PNM to vote for it.

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