PM: NOW IS THE TIME
By Clint Chan Tack Thursday, January 17 2013
AS she opened debate on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2013 in the House of Representatives yesterday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared now is the time to provide Tobago with greater internal self governance.
Saying she will fulfill this dream of former President Arthur NR Robinson and honour her 2010 election campaign promise to Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) political leader Ashworth Jack to deliver this goal, the Prime Minister declared: “After 123 years, if not now when and if not us, who.”
In making this declaration, she rejected calls from Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London not to debate the bill in Parliament before the THA election on Monday.
To underscore the importance she placed on getting the bill passed, Persad-Bissessar escorted Jack into the Parliament Chamber at 1.25 pm before the sitting began and directed him to his seat in the public gallery to watch the debate.
Jack remained there for the Prime Minister’s contribution but promptly left when Opposition Leader and People’s National Movement (PNM) political leader Dr Keith Rowley rose to respond to her later in the sitting
During the debate, the Prime Minister revealed that together with Jack, she visited Robinson at his Maraval home and presented him a copy of the legislation.
Describing Robinson as the “common mentor” to Jack and herself, Persad-Bissessar said it was Robinson who lit “the torch for the political liberation for Tobago” on January 13, 1977 when he moved a motion in the House for greater internal self governance for the island.
Saying it was “a privilege” for her to take up the baton from Robinson, Persad-Bissessar said it was Jack who insisted to her that this issue be included in the People’s Partnership’s 2010 general election manifesto. “So I consider it a very sacred duty to deliver on the promise made to the leader of the TOP, Mr Ashworth Jack and to our brothers and sisters in Tobago,” she added. Persad-Bissessar declared that while London, Rowley and The Platform for Truth (TPT) leader Hochoy Charles want Government to hold its hand on passing the bill, “it will not happen.”
“I say to them I am very sorry. I wash my hands of the pious, unfulfilled promises of the past. The only hands I want to hold are the hands of my brothers and sisters in Tobago and in Trinidad,” she declared.
Reminding MPs that she was in Tobago for a series of engagements earlier in the week, Persad- Bissessar said she had originally planned to return to Trinidad on Monday to prepare for yesterday’s debate. However the Prime Minister said: “Then I thought where best to prepare for this debate than in Tobago.”
Government MPs thumped their desks as Persad-Bissessar said she spoke with many Tobagonians while she was in the sister isle and “their passion and commitment to Tobago has left a great impression on my mind.”
“My conversation that I had with them, left me with no doubt that the changes that we are proposing (are) just, necessary and fair,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar slammed the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the TPT for criticising her for bringing the bill to Parliament in the heat of the THA election campaign ahead of election day next Monday.
Responding to London’s call to her not to debate the bill in Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said: “The best time to deliver a promise is when the electorate is watching very intently.”
She recalled that a similar debate happened in 1996 on the eve of a THA election and the legislation was assented to on election day.
Describing London’s claims that the PNM-led THA was never consulted on the bill, Persad- Bissessar said London made submissions about the bill on July 19, 2012 and several of those recommendations are included in the bill.
Referring to the Hansard of November 25, 1996, Persad-Bissessar said then Opposition Leader and PNM leader Patrick Manning voted to support the legislation “in the shadow of an election”. She said this was in stark contrast to Rowley who “has already taken a position to vote against the bill.”Persad-Bissessar rejected Rowley’s suggestion to let a tripartite committee of members of the House, Senate and THA discuss the bill. She explained the joint select committee (JSC) to which the bill and another bill which will amend the THA Act will be sent, already has a tripartite mechanism.
Government MPs thumped their desks as Persad-Bissessar questioned why London and Charles were creating such a hullabaloo about the bill now but were silent when similar legislation came to Parliament before the 1996 THA election.
Claiming London and Charles believed in 1996 they would be elected THA Chief Secretary, Persad-Bissessar quipped: “Today because they feel and fear they will not have a chance of becoming Chief Secretary, they are singing a different song.”
She also claimed there were “unspent balances” during the tenure of London and Charles as THA Chief Secretary and the bill would prevent that from happening again. Persad-Bissessar reminded MPs that the bill required a three fourths majority for passage (31 votes) in the House and of some of its important provisions. These included exclusive power for the THA to make its own laws; giving THA its own Cabinet body, called the Executive Council; a constitutionally-guaranteed allocation of between 6.9 to eight percent of the national Budget and MPs who will have a right of audience in Cabinet on all national decisions.