Yesterday’s meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the elected members of the Tobago House of Assembly appears to have given some hope to a settlement of the stalemate on the island.
Following the meeting, the prime minister said he was hopeful that there could be a settlement of the matter in what he terms a “reasonable time.”
Rowley explained that this hope is based on two things. The first is the possibility of the two parties, the People’s National Movement’s Tobago Council and the Progressive Democratic Party, reaching an agreement that could see them sharing power on the island. The second comes from the work of the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament that is considering the Tobago autonomy bill that in Rowley’s estimation, will lead to the calling of fresh elections once it is passed.
Since the completion of the THA elections, and due to the six-six tie, there is still no Presiding Officer elected in the Assembly and therefore it has not been possible to elect a new Chief Secretary. In that process, the executive that functioned prior to the election remains in place. This cannot be good for the democratic process.
We are therefore heartened by the suggestion of the PDP of a power-sharing arrangement that would see the PNM having the position of Presiding Officer and Chief Secretary, while the PDP gets the Finance Secretary position and the Deputy Presiding Officer. The PDP also wants half of the Secretaries’ positions while it is also asking for two of the three councillors.
On the surface, the proposal is at least a reasonable starting point for negotiations between the two parties and one has to question why the PDP and the PNM did not go down this path before, rather than the ruling party approaching the Parliament to change the number of seats in the Assembly?
To be clear, we take no position on whether the PDP’s offer has any merit or if the PNM should accept such an offer, but it is the principle of seeking a negotiated settlement of the issue which this paper supports.
The people of Tobago went to the polls and what the results produced was a divided Assembly that was split down the middle. But it can also be looked at in another way. Perhaps the results are a united decision by the people of Tobago that the two parties must work together in the people’s interest with neither holding power over the other?
We wait to see whether the two parties can work out their differences or whether we must go to the next step of another return to the polls.
It is, however, clear from yesterday’s news conference that whatever the outcome of the talks, the country’s Parliament will soon have to consider Tobago’s demand for internal self-government and if approved, it is likely to lead to significant changes in the relationship between the two islands.