Minority Leader Ashworth Jack has said he would stop at nothing to ensure Tobago benefits from the proposed constitutional reform.
Jack was speaking at his bi-monthly media briefing at his Scarborough office on Tuesday. Responding to accusations made by Chief Secretary Orville London one day earlier, Jack hit back saying, London has no moral authority to speak on such matters. In a media briefing at his Calder Hall office on Monday, London accused Jack of betraying the people of Tobago.
The debate centres on the proposed reform of the THA Act as well as aspects of the constitution. London had forwarded a draft THA Amendment bill to the Attorney General after it (the bill) was debated in the House. Jack and his minority members had abstained from that debate, claiming the process was illegal because the THA had no authority to send a bill directly to Cabinet.
However, last Friday, the Office of the Attorney General published a Green Paper for public discussion of the constitution in the Tobago News. This document, which was proposed by a team headed by former diplomat Reggie Dumas is expected to form the basis of constitutional reform for Tobago if the government has its way.
Jack told the media that the first draft proposed by the THA is now null and void because of the process taken by the administration. He said all Tobagonians are now free to use the Green Paper as the basis for discussion on constitution change, giving Tobago the much talked about internal self-government.
"Mr. London has been Chief Secretary for 11 years and 3 months and the only time Mr. London started speaking about internal self-government or autonomy was after the PNM lost the elections in 2012. We make no apologies for having the issue of the reform of the constitution take centre stage because Tobago demands and deserves no less," Jack opined.
The Minority Leader also bashed the leadership of the PNM in Trinidad for staying silent on the issue of constitutional reform. He used this to emphasise the point that there is no real desire by the PNM to see constitutional reform in Tobago. "The Political Leader nor the party in Trinidad has said a single word for or against the issue on the reform of the constitution and that is because the history of the PNM has been that the reform of the constitution would be too much power for Tobago," Jack argued.
The two documents now before the public have a few fundamental differences. One of the main areas of contention is 'who is a Tobagonian.' The Green Paper says someone must be living in Tobago for three months to be able to vote. London is insisting that only people living in Tobago for four years must be allowed to vote in THA elections. Jack argued that the three months proposed in the Green Paper is in keeping with the Representation of the People Act. "If the whole of Tobago feels strongly about it, I am quite sure it will come up and the government will get the message that this is what Tobago wants. Anytime the government is doing a major amendment to the constitution, they usually put out a Green Paper for public comment that informs the final draft of your bill and this is what is happening. It is not that the government has taken the advice of a small committee and gone to parliament," the TOP Political Leader told the media.
But even when the Green Paper makes its way to Parliament, the PP government will need a 2/3 majority to pass the bill. This means the government will need at least two PNM votes. Jack is hopeful this will be achieved. Failing this, he said, the people of Tobago would deal with the PNM accordingly.