Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hosts a meeting with the 12 Assemblymen of the Tobago House of Assembly at the Magdalena Grand in Tobago yesterday.

The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) is proposing the sharing of governance in Tobago temporarily.

However, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who met with the six PDP and People’s National Movement (PNM) assemblymen yesterday, says he is leaving it up to them to work out an arrangement going forward.

That is until fresh elections are called before the end of the year, after the work of the Joint Select Committee on the Constitution (Amendment) Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018 completes its work, which will trigger fresh elections.

The 12 assemblymen won their seats in the January 25, 2021, Tobago House of Assembly elections. On January 28, President Paula-Mae Weekes inaugurated them but there has been a stalemate since with neither party agreeing on the appointment of a Chief Secretary.

Speaking at a news conference at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort immediately after the meeting with Rowley, the PDP explained their proposal.

“What we have proposed is that in the interim, that we form a Tobago government that would constitute both political parties sharing the responsibilities in the executive,” PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine said.

“We are willing to give to the PNM the positions of Presiding Officer and Chief Secretary but we must get Deputy Chief Secretary and Finance Secretary, along with two of the three councillors allocated to the executive and we will split the remaining secretarial positions down the middle.”

Commenting on the PDP’s proposal at a news conference after meeting the assemblymen and past and present chief secretaries, also at the Magdalena Grand, Rowley said he was not opposed to the PDP suggestion. However, he said the PNM assemblymen had also made some suggestions.

“The PNM leadership in Tobago … have agreed to work with those proposals and their own … It’s for the two parties to come up with something. I don’t want to get ahead of myself or get ahead of them and then have to be erased off the board. I rather not put anything on the board until it is confirmed.”

Rowley said it did not make sense to have two elections before the end of 2021. He said the Joint Select Committee is expected to complete its report in May.

“We all anxiously await the talks between the elected people here in Tobago. I hope they come up very quickly with a response that is functioning very soon and I look forward to coming here very soon to the…inauguration in Tobago.”

The meeting comes after Rowley led the debate in the Lower House on February 19 to amend the THA Act and Elections and Boundaries Commissions (EBC). It also came one day after a similar debate took place in the Senate. The THA Amendment Bill was passed on both occasions. The bill included clauses to change the number of electoral districts in Tobago from 12 to 15 seats and break the existing and future deadlocks in the Assembly.

The EBC (Local Government Act) was amended to allow the commission to lay a new report in Parliament.

EBC has short timeframe to work

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) will have 90 days to produce its report on the delimitation of the boundaries of the electoral districts in Tobago after the Tobago House of Assembly (Amendment) Bill is assented to by the President.

The bill was passed in both the Lower and Upper House.

In response to questions on the issue yesterday, the EBC said although the bill increased the number of electoral districts in Tobago from 12 to 15, the methodology it will use to prepare for an election remains the same.

“In keeping with our statutory requirements, this report will be submitted to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development to lay in the House of Representatives and shall later be debated in Parliament. If passed, an order by the President will give rise to the establishment of the fifteen electoral districts in Tobago,” the EBC said.

“The EBC is prepared to utilize all its available resources to ensure it fulfils its constitutional mandate.” (Renuka Singh)