Analyst: No crisis over no minority voice in Tobago
By SEAN DOUGLAS Wednesday, January 23 2013
UNIVERSITY of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine political analyst, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, sees no constitutional crisis in the fact that there will be no minority voice in the new Tobago House of Assembly (THA) after the PNM’s sweep of all 12 elected seats.
The new THA will have no elected minority assemblymen, nor have the sole councillor who is usually appointed by the Minority Leader as this latter post will itself now be unfilled. (Former minority leader, TOP leader Ashworth Jack, lost his seat and his place in the new THA).
The Tobago House of Assembly Act says “Immediately after the appointment of the Minority Leader...the Presiding Officer shall, acting in accordance with the advice of— (a) the Chief Secretary, appoint three councillors; and (b) the Minority Leader, appoint one councillor.”
An unfazed Ragoonath said there is nothing about the election outcome to stop the THA from functioning, as the absence of an opposition/minority voice is common in local government bodies such as the THA. Ragoonath, an expert in local government, referred to the provisions of the THA Act.
“There’s nothing that says there is an urgent need for a Minority Leader. What happens however is to ensure the full composition of the Assembly which would mean there are 12 elected members and four councillors who are nominated by the various sides - three from the majority side and one from the minority side. “In this particular case we might end with one councillor short because there’s no Minority Leader. There’s nothing to suggest that the Assembly will not be able to function in the way that it is supposed to,” he said.
“The THA is a form of local government in Tobago, and there are many, many occasions in Trinidad where we have a council which is held by one party and all the members come from that party.” Such a state has existed at regional corporations in Trinidad such as those for Chaguanas and for Couva. He said, “It is not uncommon to have a council that is fully controlled by one party and has all members from that one party.”
Is there a moral argument for a minority voice in a council/assembly?
Ragoonath replied, “The moral argument is a side issue from the perspective that this is what the democratic voice of the people said — ‘we do not want an opposition’. So from that perspective the moral argument is minimised. It’s not that you should not have somebody who is keeping you in check and accountable — I totally agree with that — but you cannot dismiss the position that the mass of the electorate chose to vote in the way that they did. And that is extended in this particular instance when if you look at the total vote count it was very close to a two-to-one margin. More than 60 percent of the voters would have voted for the PNM, so that undermines the moral challenge that we could argue for, and this now simply says ‘the people have spoken’.”