Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Ancil Dennis has asked Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to have Parliament amend the THA Act, among which would be the provision of 13 seats to enable fresh elections in Tobago.
He has also announced that he will call for the resignation of all secretaries in the THA Executive Council who did not seek reelection and were replaced in the THA.
Dennis made the announcement in a statement published on page 8 of today’s newspaper.
“It is only natural that many of you are concerned and are seeking clarity regarding our island’s administration,” he told Tobagonians.
He said that he had been legally advised that the Assembly remains dissolved with the Executive Council continuing to discharge its functions in the interim, pointing to Section 34 (4) of the THA Act – “The Executive Council shall continue to discharge its functions during any period that the Assembly stands dissolved.”
He said he does not relish the current situation, adding he would make changes to the composition of the Executive Council.
“Notwithstanding what the law says, I am prepared to request the resignation of those Secretaries who did not seek re-election and were therefore replaced as assemblymen. Some of the remaining secretaries in the Executive Council will be assigned additional portfolios to facilitate this change. I believe that this is the right and proper thing to do in the unique circumstances which we now find ourselves. And let me also assure all of you, that the Executive Council will perform its duties with prudent restraint during this period.”
He assured Tobago will not be left without leadership at this crucial juncture, while they seek a practical way forward.
“This is consistent with the arrangements of democratic countries across the world, to ensure that the people are never without a government. The wheels of government must keep on turning,” Dennis said.
Dennis said he does not expect a resolution will be found at the level of the political parties.
“Therefore, the solution must be a legislative one. All of us are aware that there is only one law-making body in this country, called the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. It is in this context that as Chief Secretary, I am requesting that the Prime Minister engage the Parliament to treat with this situation, as a matter of urgency.”
He noted there are two possible interventions from the Parliament to solve this deadlock facing the THA, the first being amendments to the current THA Act to facilitate another election with an odd number of seats and the second being the passage of the Tobago Self Government Bill which is currently before the Parliament.
“I am of the firm view that the best option is the fastest one as I am sure all of you do not want this situation to drag on beyond a reasonable timeframe.”
He said Tobagonians cannot be “intimidated by the novelty of this situation”.
He added: “My counterpart Farley Augustine has suggested that the popular vote is the most democratic option to determine who should form the executive. While this is in favour of the People’s National Movement (PNM), the law does not provide for this, and it certainly does not allow for us to toss a coin or pull straws. He also suggested the use of Section 92 of the THA standing orders to break the deadlock, but section 9 of the same standing orders requires the presiding officer to deliberate and decide on this matter. Furthermore, section 7 of the THA Act states very unambiguously, ‘The Assemblymen shall, upon the swearing-in referred to in section 6, elect a Presiding Officer to whom the President shall administer the oath set out in the Second Schedule’.”
He told Tobagonians that some will try to divide them by inciting forms of disturbances and suggest that the current position is dictatorial or undemocratic.
“This period requires patience, patriotism, and common sense. Therefore, I appeal to every Tobagonian to support and engage in lawful and orderly conduct during this unprecedented time. Of course, let your voices be heard. After-all, democracy is buoyed by discussion and I am hopeful that both sides would engage with one another respectfully and amicably in the best interest of this island. Now is not a period of controversy for the Assembly, but a time of change,” he said.
He said he anticipates that the processes toward the transition will be settled and executed in the shortest possible time.
“In the meantime, we are required to be the responsible citizens we are known to be as we chart our course towards a peaceful and successful future. All will be well, in the end, Tobago, we will get there,” he said.