I am baffled about what is quietly taking place within the Tobago House of Assembly, which looks as though it is being treated as another PNM party group. The THA is certainly not a PNM party group. The local print media have informed their readers that Kelvin Charles will resign as chief secretary of the THA, “while the new political leader of the Tobago PNM Council” is to be “installed as a councillor”.

Mr Charles’ resignation followed a meeting held with the prime minister in Tobago last weekend. Mr Charles reportedly stated at a news conference, as reported in the Express (12.02.20), that he “will be stepping down” at the end of April 2020 and that “Mrs Tracy Davidson-Celestine will come on board on the first of March as a councillor”.

As if all of that was not enough, Mrs Davidson-Celestine, who now heads the PNM Tobago Council, and who technically has nothing to do with the affairs of the THA at this time, told the media a “new THA chief secretary is to be elected”. Mrs Davidson-Celestine seems to be arrogating onto herself a role that is reserved for the president of the republic.

Section 17 (2) of the THA Act No 37 of 1980 allows for the resignation of the chairman (chief secretary) “by letter addressed to the clerk”. Section 17 (3) and (4) pertain to the formal declaration of that vacancy while Section 17 (5) outlines the role of the president of the republic, who would “either issue a writ addressed to the returning officer of the appropriate electoral area for the holding of a primary election for the election of a new assemblyman or advise the chairman that a secondary election for the election of a councillor be held”.

If my understanding is correct and the act provides for the election of three councillors by “secondary elections” via secret ballot by existing members of the THA, I am left to wonder at Mrs Celestine-Davidson’s reported assertion to the press that she “will become one of those councillors with effect from the first working day in March 2020”. Certainly, such an assertion conveys the impression that the THA can be manipulated by the PNM party.

Finally, Mr Charles reportedly himself asserted that following his “resignation”, he will remain as the assemblyman for Black Rock/Whim/Spring Garden for now, and would gracefully return to his former Black Rock home after he demits office as chief secretary in April.

All of this leaves me with an uneasy feeling that the present PNM administration is acting ultra vires in respect of the way Dr Rowley appears to be manipulating the membership of the THA, to the exclusion of those who ought to have the first say regarding who may or may not sit as assemblymen: the Tobago electorate.

The people of Black Rock elected Mr Charles, who enjoyed the confidence of “a majority” of his fellow assemblymen—PNM and non-PNM, to the extent that he was elevated to the chair of chief secretary. The THA is a statutory body that enjoys constitutional protection. So, how and why is this body suddenly being treated as a PNM party group by a prime minister whose authority to do this is questionable, and all of this is being done with the conspicuous exclusion of the president?

Can someone clarify this apparent breach of the law?

Steve Smith

via e-mail

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