Will “Tobago love” conquer all?
The People’s National Movement (PNM) and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) teams have agreed to sit down and work out something which could dovetail with the work of the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Tobago Self-Government, in the wake of the six-six deadlock in the January 25 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley indicated an understanding had been reached between the PNM Tobago Council and the PDP to talk with a view to establishing a joint interim administration for the THA until the JSC on Tobago Self-Government has concluded its work.
Rowley met with the 12 THA assemblymen yesterday morning at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort in Tobago. After the meeting with the PM, the assemblymen held discussions on the way forward and then met with the Prime Minister again to inform him of the outcome of their deliberations.
Speaking at a news conference following the deliberations, Rowley said the two parties agreed that they are prepared to continue talking, “and I did extract from them, I think, a commitment that they would come to a solution that would be influenced by the fact” that it is better for them to go back to the polls after the Joint Select Committee (which is due to complete its report in May) has completed its work.
“Because the work of that JSC, once it comes to Parliament, will carry with it the amendment of certain laws, including the Constitution, and would trigger itself an election...and, therefore, (the question is) would you want to have two elections”, one triggered by the current amendment to the THA Act which was passed on Tuesday night, and another election triggered by the legislative reform process spearheaded by the JSC.
“So it makes more sense that we now have some co-operation in an interim (period) where the teams would run Tobago’s affairs in some kind of coming together. Whatever that would be, we would find out in the next few days,” the Prime Minister said.
PM: I would be disappointed
if the talks fail
Told the PDP suggested a power-sharing arrangement which would give the PNM the positions of presiding officer and chief secretary while it (PDP) would get the positions of deputy chief secretary, secretary of finance and the rest of secretaries split evenly between the two parties, Rowley said: “Power-sharing is a phrase I would never use...I never see it as power, it is administrative and it is service...I have no power to share with anybody. What I think it is, is an agreement to share the administrative responsibilities... But what exactly the details will be, I will await the outcome of their firm conclusions.
“The points you raise there about possibilities, these are objectives that they could work towards and I encourage them to do so, and I anticipate that some of that may form part of the outcome and I prefer to await the outcome of it. And I am not here recommending to them anything,” he added.
The Prime Minister said he would be disappointed if at the end of the talks, what has been offered by both sides is unpalatable to each other.
He expressed confidence that both sides “would take on the responsibility of managing this period of transition as we transition to a larger objective of the completion of the work of the JSC with respect to Tobago’s self-governance”.
“We are now in the hands of the 12 elected representatives to conclude their discussions and to come up with arrangements that would allow for the election and selection of persons to have a functioning Tobago House of Assembly in the shortest possible time.
“That arrangement is on the understanding that it is interim to the time when we conclude the work of JSC, and that would put the people of Tobago back to the polls, sometime during 2021,” he said.
“And I think that the general sentiment of the (12) elected Tobagonians is that they could work with that, and I am anxious to see what they come up with. And the group of them has the full support of the Central Government in handling this period of deadlock which we are going to resolve in the way that has come up today, and we only have to wait to see exactly what they come up with,” Rowley said.
PM: I had to allow the
temperatures to cool
Asked whether the meeting ought not to have taken place before the THA Amendment Bill went to Parliament, the Prime Minister said: “Nothing happens before its time... Had I come here (to Tobago) before, you and them would have been the same people who would have been saying to me, ‘Get out of our affairs, get out of our business, this is not a matter for the Prime Minister’.”
Rowley said the first statements that came from the PDP in the immediate aftermath of the election was that they wanted to have nothing to do with the PNM, they wanted no part of anything involving the PNM.
“I had to wait until those emotions subsided... Sometimes you have to let the porridge cool before you put it to your lips... I am not in the THA business. I only come in as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and I only came when Tobago was demonstrably unable to have a Tobago solution....
“And whether you like me or not, whether you like the PNM or not, it falls to the Government (of Trinidad and Tobago) not to allow that (impasse) to remain as a permanent feature, and it is in that context I was able to meet with them this morning to discuss the said issue.
“And, fortunately, the temperatures would have cooled, the statements would have been less acerbic and there was no bombast...so they have agreed to find common cause on a particular issue,” he said.
“In this business of politics and national management...sometimes things happen and they call for patience, they call for firmness, they call for compassion.”
Asked about the timeline, the Prime Minister said he anticipated that in “some reasonable time-frame”, the two sides would be able to...firm up some arrangement... And that was the only undertaking that I was given”.
Saying he had already heard detailed suggestions as to how the arrangement could be, he said it should be “relatively simple to close the positions”.
Asked whether the THA Bill passed on Tuesday night in the Senate would no longer be needed, Rowley said: “The bill as passed opens a door which we can go through, or we may not go through that door. But it is a tool that has now become available as of last night.”
Noting the bill has a proclamation clause and does not become law until the Cabinet advises the President to proclaim, the Prime Minister said: “If for any reason that (the dialogue between the elected members of the THA) fails to deliver, then of course what we have done (passed) last night...is always going to be available to be utilised by the Government, which I lead, to ensure that Tobago has a functioning assembly”.