The People's Partnership's proposed bill to repeal and replace the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act, which will be laid in Parliament tomorrow, focuses heavily on Tobago's maritime boundary, an attempt to consolidate its financial accounts and a new hierarchal structure of governance.
The 34-page bill will be accompanied by a four-page act which seeks "to amend the Constitution to provide the entrenchment of certain provisions relating to the Tobago House of Assembly and related matters".
The constitutional change will give the THA power to make its own laws.
"Subject to this Constitution the Assembly shall have power to make laws known as "Assembly Laws" for the peace, order and good governance of Tobago (in the area prescribed as Tobago other than in relation to those matters set out in section 141D of the Constitution," the proposed legislation states.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced her Government's plans for the THA at the Tobago Organisation of the People's (TOP) presentation of candidates last weekend.
But the Prime Minister's timing has earned the ire of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley who described the move as vulgar and insulting and accused Persad-Bissessar of campaigning for the TOP in Parliament.
The bill has 74 clauses and carries different subheadings: Part 1-Preliminary, Part 2-The Assembly, Part 3-Executive Council of the Assembly, Part 4-Finance, Part 5-The Dispute Resolution Commission, Part 6-Meetings and Proceedings of Assembly, Part 7-Staff and Related Matters and Part 8- Miscellaneous Provisions.
A new position to be created in the THA will be that of "Independent Councillor".
The bill provides for two independent councillors to be appointed at the discretion of the President.
This new proposed act, it said, "shall apply only within the island of Tobago and such part of the territorial sea of Trinidad and Tobago comprising those areas of the sea having as their inner limits the baselines of Tobago as determined in accordance with the Archipelagic Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone Act".
The bill makes it clear that people appointed to the THA must work only for the THA.
"A Secretary, Assistant Secretary or the Presiding Officer shall not engage in any trade, business, occupation or other undertaking for profit or remuneration other than that of serving as Secretary, Assistant Secretary or the Presiding Officer," it said.
It called for regular meetings with the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary "with a view to formulating administrative and legislative mechanisms for the promotion of harmony in the Trinidad and Tobago".
It provides for the Chief Secretary to attend Cabinet meetings to apprise the Cabinet of decisions taken by the Assembly "but the Chief Secretary shall not have the right to vote on any matter before the Cabinet".
When it comes to power, the Chief Secretary will share management with a Deputy Chief Secretary and other Secretaries not exceeding seven.
However, the Chief Secretary will have the right to advise the President to appoint an Assistant Secretary.
The biggest changes in the new THA legislation are contained in the Finance section.
Money will move from Central Government to a "Tobago House of Assembly Fund".
The Fund will comprise money allocated by the Government, money collected by the THA from taxes or money borrowed.
The most notable feature is that money allocated to the THA "for any financial year shall be no less than eight per cent of the national budget for that year".
Section 42 of the bill notes: "Where the need arises Parliament shall appropriate additional financial resources to Tobago as fairly as is practicable, and in determining what is fair and practicable, the following considerations, among others, shall apply:
a) physical separation of Tobago by sea from Trinidad and Tobago's distinct identity;
b) isolation from the principal national growth centres;
c) absence of the multiplier effect of expenditures and investments (private and public) made in Trinidad;
d) restricted opportunities for employment and career fulfillment;
e) the impracticability of participation by residents of Tobago in the major educational, cultural and sporting facilities located in Trinidad;
f) physical separation from the island of Trinidad;
g) Tobago's share of the national marine and space resources pursuant to the Archipelagic Waters and Economic Zone Act."
The bill will also enable the THA to borrow on the local market and on international markets for capital expenditure.
"Within two months of the coming into force of this Act, the Assembly shall, make such Financial Rules as are necessary for the proper management of its finances," the proposed bill states.
Section 54 concentrates on the island's gas potential.
It says: "No exploration or exploitation of resources in Tobago or in the territorial waters, air space, continental shelf or exclusive economic zone of Trinidad and Tobago shall be undertaken without prior negotiation with and resulting in a conclusion satisfactory to the Assembly."
Last Thursday, Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed said debate on the legislation will not be completed in Parliament before the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.
Debate will begin in the House of Representatives on January 16, and it is anticipated there will be a marathon session to pass the bill in the Lower House before the elections.
In order for a bill to become law, it must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then sent to the President for proclamation.
The bill requires "not less that three fourths of all the members of the House and in the Senate by votes of not less than two thirds of all the members of the Senate".
Chief Secretary Orville London has challenged the People's Partnership government for drafting its own bill which ignored a similar document which the THA had submitted to the Government.