Winford James

Dr Winford James

When in January 2017 the Tobagonian electorate returned the PNM to power in Tobago, they were at the same time installing Assemblyman Kelvin Charles as Chief Secretary in acceptance of a proposal from the Tobago Council of the PNM (and doubtless from the national PNM leadership) that he as newly elected political leader of the council would be Chief Secretary after the departure of Orville London. The council and Charles waited for Orville’s tenure to come to an end before Kelvin could assume the mantle of leadership.

The transition was respectful of the wishes of the Tobagonian electorate, but this time it has been subversive of the will of the people. Quite.

Tracy Davidson-Celestine defeated Kelvin in the run-off, thus dislodging him from the leadership. But still chafing under her loss to him in the 2016 internal elections, which she was convinced had been rigged to prevent her from winning, she immediately set about removing him from the office of Chief Secretary with the collusion of the other two erstwhile adversaries Joel Jack and Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus, eight PNM Assemblymen, former members of the THA still aggrieved that they were sidelined by Kelvin as supporters of Orville, and unseen Trinidad movers and shakers behind the scenes.

Four results so far, all quite displeasing and unnerving to a lot of people, including many PNM members, are that

1. On the first working day of March at least two of the PNM’s three councillors will be demitting their office to make way for Tracy and Denise (?) as non-Assemblymen in the House;

2. Kelvin will be stepping down at the end of April to make way for a new Chief Secretary, whose identity has not been officially revealed;

3. The work of the Executive Council and some of the secretaries has slowed to the extent that there is a strong feeling of administrative inertia;

4. Tracy is making announcements about how the PNM side of the House will be composed.

It is Tracy who has told us there will be portfolio changes on the PNM side. But for that to happen all the current portfolio holders will have to resign and a new Chief Secretary will have to be elected by the Assemblymen, and s/he will then, after consultation with “Members”, advise the President to appoint new secretaries (up to seven of them) but not the Deputy Chief Secretary who, like the Chief, will also be elected separately by the Assemblymen. The Chief Secretary will advise the President to appoint new Assistant Secretaries but, apparently, not necessarily with the constraint of consultation with “Members’’.

Can Tracy be elected Chief Secretary? No. No Councillor can be elected to this office, only an Assemblyman. So neither can Denise. And for her to become an Assemblyman a current Assemblyman would have to resign their seat and thus create a vacancy which must be filled via a bye-election, which she must win.

Is there enough time for a bye-election? There is, since it must take place no less than two months, and no more than three months, after the vacancy is declared. If the vacancy takes effect from, say, the beginning of March, then the bye-election would have to take place no earlier than the beginning of May, and no later than the beginning of June, which would leave some six to seven more months for the term of the Assembly to run.

What Tracy and her faction plan to do is mostly within the law. But she may be breaking the law on sedition by publicly announcing decisions about the composition of the House. I do not think the law intended that somebody who has no locus standi in the House should interfere in that way. At the very least, it is undermining the integrity and character of the place.

Tracy and her backers are clearly using circumstances within the party to regulate the workings of the House. They are behaving as if their internal elections are really general Tobago elections. They are using the results of their party’s elections to remove a Chief Secretary who was voted into office as such by the general Tobago electorate. They are manipulating the results of their elections to use an unelected person to call the shots in (the Executive Council of) the House of Assembly. They. are. trampling. on. the. sovereignty. of. the. Tobagonian. electorate. Boldfacedly! Unashamedly!

This offends my sense of the democracy we should be building in Tobago. This offends me as a Tobagonian.

The whole matter makes me wonder whether political morality and ethicality and just plain commonsense have fled the PNM. Aren’t they worried that they might be alienating large numbers of their supporters by their clear arrogance and deceit? Was all the talk about reconciliation and healing just old talk and mamaguy? It might be payback time for Kelvin but are they willing to elevate payback above respect for the sovereignty of the people?

One more thing. I have been thinking that, absent knowledge about inducements that may have caused him to change his mind about going down to the wire, he could have won a draw in a vote of no confidence. That is, if he won over the three votes of the Opposition; if he kept the loyalty of the three councillors; if Assemblyman Marslyn Jack stayed loyal; and if he voted for himself.

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Although it comes at an unbearably high price, the COVID-19 pandemic brings opportunities for change that have been long needed but have hitherto gone to waste.

My headline today is not a typographical error. As suggested below, it is still uncertain whether the Government’s policy of siq, that is separate, isolate and quarantine, is a sound enough response to our COVID-19 crisis. We just don’t know yet.

COVID-19 is shaking civilisation to its core. Over one million persons are infected in 200 countries and over 55,000 have already died. Economies, industrialised and developing, are reeling. Global supply chains are being broken and the threat of shortages hangs in the air.

When we will have overcome the COVID-19 multi-pronged attack on Trinidad and Tobago, we will face associated problems ranging from the economy under severe stress such as it has never been before, with unemployment at a crisis level, disruption of the education system leaving all stakeholders confused, and possible shortage of foods.

The action taken by the Government over the past two or three weeks with respect to control and containment of the COVID-19 virus, which has been in line, by and large, with the action taken by other countries, ought to be supported if we are to weather this virulent epidemic.

It is a well-established truism that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On the basis of and in recognition of this reality, conversations are taking place among various professional and sectoral elites about how not to let this moment pass without taking advantage of it.