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Dr Winford James

Camille McEachnie

There is a general outcry from the business community and ordinary citizens as Prime Minister and leader of the People’s National Movement Dr Keith Rowley heads to Parliament today to begin discussing the proposed changes to break the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deadlock.

The THA Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to find a solution to end the impasse created by the 12 elected assemblymen’s inability to elect a presiding officer and fully reconstitute the Assembly.

The Government proposes to increase the number of assemblymen and electoral districts from 12 to 15, hold fresh elections after 14 days if no Assembly is installed, and provide the date for the calling of the elections.

The Bill also seeks to amend the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Local Government and THA Act so that the EBC can lay a report if the Assembly remains dissolved if an election is held but there is no Assembly.

The T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC), Tobago Division says Rowley should not go forward with the proposed bill without consulting with all 12 elected representatives.

The chamber proposes an alternative way to resolve the impasse.

“The Parliament’s intervention at this time will subvert Tobago’s push for self-determination. Resolution of the tie should be left up to the people of Tobago and their 12 elected representatives. The best approach is for the 12 elected representatives of the people to engage in dialogue to resolve the tie in the best interest of all Tobagonians,” the chamber said in a press release in February.

The chamber suggested Tobago’s elders and non-governmental organisations be involved in resolving the matter.

“The dialogue should seek to establish a new “national unity” government with a shared executive council, with a clear mandate to tackle the fundamental governance problems of the THA act and to take us back to the polls by 2023,” the release notes.

Political analyst Dr Winford James and former assemblyman Stanley Beard also called Rowley’s move “undemocratic” and “illegal.”

They say his decision to exclude the PDP from the discussions before taking the amendment to Parliament is not good for governance.

They also say having fresh elections without exhausting existing measures is a waste of taxpayers’ funds. Both said existing THA and national legislations could break the deadlock.

James also noted that the Prime Minister finds himself in an “embarrassing” position as he is seeking to have the Elections and Boundaries Commission(EBC) do a new study to increase the electoral districts to 15.

This although the EBC’s September 2020 report to Parliament did not recommend increasing the number of seats.

On January 25, the PDP and PNM won six seats each in the THA elections.

They have not been able to elect a presiding officer after three attempts to do so.

On each occasion, the assemblymen voted along party lines, resulting in a tie.