THA could advise Prez
By ANDRE BAGOO Wednesday, January 9 2013
THE PRESIDENT will have to act in accordance with the advice of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and not just Cabinet, according to proposals contained in the Tobago Bill 2013, tabled in Parliament on Monday.
While under Section 80 of the Constitution, the President generally has to act in compliance with the advice of Cabinet, the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2013, proposes to make the President a servant of the THA’s Executive Council, in relation to Tobago affairs.
The proposal was yesterday hailed by Tobagonian and former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas, who described it as “extremely important”. Clause 9 of the bill proposes to amend the Constitution by inserting a new Section 80, which would state: “In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly, where applicable.”
Dumas, who oversaw drafting of the previous incarnation of the bill, the Tobago Bill 2011, told Newsday, “this change is extremely important. That provision was not previously in the Green Paper. It is a considerably important change.”
Dumas welcomed the 2013 bill — which was drafted by the Law Reform Commission, a department of the Ministry of the Attorney General — stating it appears to have “improved on” the Green Paper and contained all the “essential elements” of autonomy.
“It seems to improve on certain things in the Green Paper and it has retained the essential elements of what I and my colleagues consider to be internal self-government, namely: legislative authority; executive authority; sustainable financing and a proper definition of Tobago. Those four pillars remain,” Dumas said.
He also noted definition of Tobago in Clause 11, proposes to correct what he described as an error in the THA Act of 1996, involving the wrong description of maritime boundaries.
“The definition of Tobago is considerably improved because it takes into account internal waters. In contrast, the 1996 Tobago House of Assembly Act is simply wrong on this matter, starting the measurement from the high-tide level on the coast and not as it should be, given the international law of the sea,” he said.
Dumas said the bill should be supported by anyone who agrees with the principles of internal self-government. “I think it should be supported, yes,” he said. The Tobago Bill proposes to give the THA power to make its own laws in relation to specific matters and establish an Executive Council to run the sister island. In general, both bodies would have direction and control over a list of areas on an exclusive “Tobago list” as well as items listed on a “Concurrent List”, to be included as schedules to the law if passed.
The “Tobago List” includes: finance; health; state lands; tourism; culture and arts; agriculture; town and country planning; infrastructure; social welfare; water resources; housing; non-tertiary education; sport; and “such matters as may from time to time be assigned”, by the President.
The Trinidad Parliament may only make laws in relation to items on the Tobago List, if “necessary or expedient in the national interest”.
There would also be a “Concurrent List” of topics which both Trinidad and Tobago could legislate on, including: air and sea transport; legal affairs; telecommunications; tertiary education; public utilities; energy and energy affairs. However, where Tobago passes a law on this list that conflicts with a law passed by Trinidad’s Parliament, the Parliament law would be supreme.
During an emergency, Parliament would have power to pass a law relating to any matter, but that law’s life-span would be subject to the duration of the emergency. Cabinet would retain domain over a “National List” including: the President; Office of the Prime Minister; Immigration; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary and National Security. Further, Cabinet would have domain on all matters but would have to “consult” with the THA on matters concerning Tobago, according to Clause 8.
Though he supported the legislation as a whole, Dumas said he disagrees with the language used in Clause 8. He said “consult” should be changed to “concur”, meaning the consent of the THA would have to be obtained.
Dumas said he was satisfied with the provision to allow the THA to borrow, stating this was also important. However, he queried whether it was necessary to stipulate that between 6.9 percent and eight percent of the national Budget be allocated to Tobago. That provision, in Clause 10, may explicitly be subject to a review, “on terms and conditions as shall be prescribed.”
The new bill would have to be proclaimed by the President to come into effect. Until such time, laws already in force will remain as is.