$$ TOP UP
Monday, December 31 2012
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last night revealed key aspects of the Constitutional (Amendment) Tobago Bill 2012 — to be tabled early next year in Parliament — chief of which is a proposal to increase Tobago’s annual National Budget allocation from the present four to six percent ratio to 6.9 to 8 percent.
The Prime Minister made this revelation in delivering the feature address before a large, jubilant crowd at Old Market Square in downtown Scarborough during the formal launch of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) campaign for the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
“My brothers and sisters let me tell you here tonight, Trinidad is not an annexe of Tobago! Tobago is not an appendage of Trinidad. Tobago is an equal partner! Side by side we stand.
That is why we proclaim proudly that Tobago and Trinidad are sister islands,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Saying that the People’s Partnership (PP) government, of which the TOP is a member, in promising to deliver enhanced legislative and executive powers to the THA with a view to promoting the internal self-government of Tobago, the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill was drafted in 2011.
“To this end, my Government agreed that a Green Paper on Internal Self-Government for Tobago should be prepared and published for public comments and consultation. In February of 2012, ten thousand (10,000) copies of the Green Paper (with the Bill attached to it) were published and distributed throughout Tobago and throughout Trinidad. The public was invited to submit comments, written or electronic by the end of June 2012.
In June, a team including attorney Martin George, attorney Christlyn Moore (now Justice Minister) and led by political scientist Dr Hamid Ghany was appointed to engage in public consultations on a Green Paper on Tobago Constitution Reform.
The team submitted a Report to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in September with recommendations. The report was submitted to Cabinet. Persad-Bissessar said that as a result of the report’s recommendations, the 2011 Bill was amended to take into account policy changes. She then revealed the main aspects of the amended Bill.
“As I promised in my Budget presentation this year, the Bill to provide for the Internal Self Government of Tobago would be introduced in the current session of the Parliament. In keeping with my promise, this Bill, laying out the improved framework for Tobago’s internal self-governance will be laid in Parliament on January 7. Debate on the Bill will commence on 16 January,” she said.
Highlights of Tobago Bill
Among the main benefits of the Bill for Tobagonians and the THA is greater legislative power for the THA to pass laws to deal with matters set out in a Concurrent List, such as: Legal Affairs…including the registration of Legal documents; Tertiary Education; Energy and Energy Affairs; Customs and Excise and Public Infrastructure…including roads and bridges.
In formulating policy for matters in the Concurrent List, Cabinet must consult with the THA. The effect of this is that the powers of the Parliament in relation to making laws for Tobago will be limited.
Another proposal is the increase in the national budgetary allocation to Tobago…from the existing four percent to six percent; to between 6.9 and eight percent. “This means that more money will be made available for the development of Tobago by Tobagonians. In other words, the old maximum of 6.9 percent is now the new minimum,” Persad-Bissessar said. In the 2012-2013 National Budget, Tobago received $2.356 billion.
Subject to limitations in respect of interference of fundamental human rights and the power to amend the Constitution, the THA, Persad-Bissessar said, would have the power to pass a Bill to make laws for Tobago with respect to matters on the Tobago List.
Some of those matters include: Fisheries; Housing; Consumer Affairs; Culture and Arts; Internal Security and Tourism.
Three other new and important provisions would be: establishment of a Secretary for Legal Matters in the THA; the THA will be able to borrow up to 25 percent of the sum allocated per year to the THA under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP), without the approval of Parliament; and extension of the jurisdiction of the THA from six to 11 nautical miles from the baselines of Tobago. “So you see, your government has not been sleeping on the job!” she said.
As the Bill would alter Sections 5 and 53 of the Constitution it would therefore need to be passed by a special two-thirds majority of each House of the Parliament, however, Persad-Bissessar said she expects opposition to the bill by Opposition and PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley.
“I do not expect the PNM to support such progressive pieces of legislation, given their history of trifling with this country. The fact is, in the almost half a century that the PNM ruled this country, they did precious little for the people of Tobago.
“When the bill is debated in parliament, I hope (THA chief secretary Orville) London would tell their leader Mr Rowley to give their support to these Bills in the interest of Tobago. She later hit London’s tenure as THA chief secretary.
(SEE PAGE 5A)