The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) says Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s legislative move to have the Tobago Bill (2021) amended in Parliament on February 19 and end the THA impasse, is flawed. Dr Rowley, who is the PNM’s national council leader, led his team in the parliamentary debate. He cited the views of esteemed lawyers. Tobago Council PNM leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine has endorsed Dr Rowley’s stance.
The bill, which was passed in the Lower House, seeks to have fresh THA elections after the number of electoral districts are increased from 12 to 15, create a measure to end the deadlock and amend the Elections and Boundaries Commission’s (EBC) laws.
Under the law, the EBC cannot present a new report to Parliament unless two years have elapsed since the last report. The last report, done in September 2020, recommended no adjustments to Tobago’s electoral boundaries.
The PDP said Dr Rowley never consulted with the PDP on how to resolve the impasse. Six of the 12 Assemblymen, who won their seats on January 25, 2021, are from the PDP. The other six belong to the PNM.
Commenting on the PM’s actions, one of the PDP’s deputy leaders, Farley Augustine, said Dr Rowley could have done things differently.
Referring to a pre-action protocol letter delivered to the Assembly’s Clerk hours before the debate, Augustine said the party awaits the court’s decision.
The letter seeks to get the clerk to reconvene the Assembly meeting to elect a presiding officer. The 12 assemblymen met three times to elect a presiding officer. At the last attempt on February 4, the clerk did not say when next the House will reconvene the meeting.
Farley told Guardian Media the party’s legal move would “negate what happens in the Parliament, for now, so we wait on the court to see their interpretation. That means that the Court will inevitably give instructions for how we should proceed out of this.
“Further, every group and every individual outside of the PNM in Tobago has come out openly to condemn the PM’s decision to rush to the Parliament in an attempt to amend the rules of the game in the middle of the game.
“It is not just the PDP that is saying it. Mr Charles has said it. Dr Vanus James has said it. Dr Winford James has said it. Reginald Dumas has said it. Martin Daly, SC, has said it. Several quarters have warned against the PM’s action.”
On February 20, PNM’s Davidson-Celestine had her say on the matter during a press conference at the Scarborough Health Centre, where front-line workers received their initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
“For us in Tobago, it (Parliament passing the bill) represents one of the most democratic ways of determining which party should lead the island over the next four years. Deciding on 15 seats came out of all of Tobago during the consultation process,” she said.
The THA stands dissolved since November 17, 2020, although THA elections were held on January 25.
All 12 Assemblymen, having won their seats in the THA January 25, 2020, elections, were inaugurated by President Paula-Mae Weekes on January 28.
However, after three attempts, they did not agree on a presiding officer. The Assembly has not been constituted.