'High-handedness': Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley displays a map during his contribution at yesterday's sitting of the Lower House at Tower D of the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

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'Legislation will make Tobago worse off'

By Julien Neaves

AN "election ploy" and a "Trojan horse" that will make Tobagonians worse off was how Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday described legislation to give the sister isle more autonomy.

"If what is before us is enacted into law, Tobago will be worse off than we are now," he said.

He noted that while Tobago would have power to pass laws, there was a provision that if the law was inconsistent with a law made by Parliament, before or after, the Tobago law would be made void.

"That is not self-government," he stressed.

He was contributing to debate in the Lower House on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2013 at Tower D of the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

Rowley said the concurrent list in the legislation would give Central Government an opening to claim rights and responsibilities "which it does not have", and Tobago has more power under existing laws.

He added that the bill would expose to Tobago more of the "high handedness" of Central Government.

He pointed out the Government's failed attempt to set up a forestry programme, saying it was currently acquiring State lands, under the responsibility of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), for a university that was "bought by a friend of a friend of a friend".

He noted that on February 16, 2011, he received correspondence from the Prime Minister about the reform of the Constitution, and he wrote back to her in a letter dated September 19, 2011, requesting clarifications.

He said the Prime Minister never gave him the courtesy of a reply.

"No similar letter exists on this country's record from any Opposition Leader to any Prime Minister in this country because I said to her we can do things differently, and not just differently but we can do things better. She spoiled that," he said.

He noted that Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine has said Tobago would receive equity in distribution of energy wealth, but this was an attempt to "fool people" and the bill was drafted by people who do not understand the law of the sea.

He said the Prime Minister denigrated the People's National Movement (PNM) and threw accusations at him, "calling my 'Tobagoness' into question, as if she could".

He claimed the bill was for her to fulfill a promise to Tobago Organisation of the People leader Ashworth Jack. He also said the Prime Minister was seeking to revise history by saying the THA had not looked at self-government when it has engaged in island-wide consultation before the People's Partnership was formed.

"I have been telling the people of Tobago what the Government is doing is wrong, what they doing to the Parliament is bad and election or no election the PNM will not support it. As a matter of fact... Tobago's protection right now is the PNM," he said.

He also called the bill a "Swiss cheese of staleness and stinkness", but House Speaker Wade Mark chided him for making an "inelegant" remark.

Rowley said the problem with the legislation was the process, and gave the analogy that if the egg is rotten the omelet will "never be good".

Rowley said there should be national public involvement—the Opposition, Government and THA should work together—and the public should know what is being done on their behalf.

"When the bill has passed through all of that, public comment and all, we will come to the Parliament with a bill that has been so rigorously reviewed and... then we can debate a bill that we supporting and then we can go to committee, finalise it and give Tobago once and for all the self-government that it needs," Rowley said.

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