Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was disrespectful and insulting in seeking to take an election campaign to the Parliament to debate legislation for Tobago's internal self-governance mere days before the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, says Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
Persad-Bissessar, on Sunday, at the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) presentation of candidates said that the Constitutional (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2012, which will see increased financial power for the THA, will be tabled in Parliament next Monday.
Debate on the Bill will begin on January 16, five days before the THA election on January 21.
Rowley stressed that the People's National Movement (PNM) was in full support of self-governance for Tobago but will not be rushed to pass legislation without thorough examination.
"It is unacceptable, the manner in which this is being done. We all want Tobago to be in charge of its affairs but people must understand that there are ways of doing things properly. To have a debate on January 16, mere days before an election, is nothing short of vulgar. The Prime Minister is disrespectful," said Rowley.
He noted that the Government has adopted an approach to bringing legislation to the Parliament and rushing debates with deadlines—one of which resulted in the Section 34 debacle. The Opposition, he said, had a problem by which the consultative process with respect to self-governance for Tobago was conducted.
The THA, he said, led by Chief Secretary Orville London, had engaged Tobagonians in a two-year consultative process which was later scrapped by this Government.
"That process was terminated by Ashworth Jack, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General who created their own process headed by Hamid Ghany, Christlyn Moore and Martin George," said Rowley.
The PNM leader accused the Prime Minister of politicising the consultations, culminating in a campaign for the TOP.
"We have an election in Tobago and the Parliament is being called into session to receive the Bill, we are going to see it for the first time and this matter will not be rushed...it requires serious examination and consultation," said Rowley.
"We support self-governance for Tobago but the Government's vulgarity once again calls into question the conduct of the Prime Minister and the lack of good governance in Trinidad and Tobago."
He claimed that the Prime Minister waited for the election to draw near before instructing the AG to draft legislation.
"Even before the Bill is laid in the Parliament, she (Persad-Bissessar) is demonising me and the THA, saying we will not support it, she has started the campaign saying we are opposed to Tobago self-governance, which is nonsense," said Rowley.
The PNM's record in Tobago, he said, speaks for itself and the Opposition will discharge its duty and responsibility to the people in accordance with their oath of office. He said only when the Opposition has seen the Bill will it put forward a position on it.
Rowley also took issue with the Prime Minister telling Tobagonians that the THA election was not about TOP political leader Ashworth Jack's multi-million-dollar private residence or about the Section 34 controversy, which saw the firing of former justice minister Herbert Volney.
"When you see the Prime Minister saying that Ashworth Jack's inability to explain his new-found assets and that Clause 34 is not important, that is what the people need to pay attention to, any Prime Minister who takes that position is one to watch. For a Prime Minister to make a statement like that is very frightening.
"What I want to ask her is if it was a PNM person who had found himself in Ashworth Jack's position, where they received assets they can't explain, if she would have been so generous," added Rowley.
He further refuted Persad-Bissessar's statement that there will be no invasion of Tobago and that members of her party have no desire to buy out the land in the sister isle.
Rowley claimed that the United National Congress (UNC) was hiding behind the TOP, hoping to fool Tobagonians into "voting for something that is Tobago when it is the complete opposite".
On January 21, three political parties will contest the THA election—the PNM, the TOP and Platform For Truth (PFT), led by Hochoy Charles.