Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Kelvin Charles says a draft bill outlining the island’s demands for autonomy is currently before the Cabinet of the Dr Keith Rowley-led People’s National Movement administration.
In a statement on Friday, Charles said the draft bill was presented to the Cabinet last November.
“This bill came after many months of consultations, where Tobagonians made it very clear that they are ready to play a more decisive role in determining how the island and its resources are managed,” he said. “This draft bill is currently before Cabinet for consideration, and is expected to be taken to Parliament in the near future for debate.” Charles said the bill must be passed by a special majority to become law. “Until then the THA continues to be constitutionally limited in its ability to govern the island.” The THA Chief Secretary said the issue of autonomy will continue to be of paramount importance to his administration “as we seek to maximise the development potential of Tobago.” Charles gave an update on the status of the draft bill as he responded to statements made by president of the Downtown and Owners Merchants Association Gregory Aboud, in a recent CNC 3 news report, which he felt cast the island’s administration in a disparaging light He said Aboud’s comments could be deemed as careless and divisive. “I am of the opinion that Mr. Aboud’s views are obviously ill-informed since the powers of the Assembly are limited in the current governance structure,” Charles said.
“However, despite this limitation we have always sought to take a collaborative approach to the administration of the island for the good of the people of Tobago.” He added that the THA has sought to forge partnerships that will facilitate the island’s development goals, which includes supporting entrepreneurs in an effort to boost export income and seeking public-private partnership opportunities to advance Tobago’s development agenda. Charles said the sea bridge provided a very necessary service, not only for the regular citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago but for the business community of Tobago,.
He said the island’s businessmen relied on the service to satisfy the many needs of Tobagonians which, in turn, contributed to the buoyancy and profitability of many Trinidad businesses. “We must be cognisant of the fact that as a twin island state, we are currently operating under a constitution that governs the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago, which at this time, allows for certain services and amenities to be provided by the central government, inclusive of the inter- island transportation services,” Charles said. “However, I must note that statements such as Mr. Aboud’s seem to reflect a disharmonious approach, especially as he referred to Tobago as a country, as if we were two separate nations.” Charles said the justification for seeking greater autonomy is to allow Tobago to have greater decision- making authority over the island’s development, inclusive of the ability to borrow funds for the island’s developmental needs.
“I encourage and caution all to operate with the required level of sensitivity and respect for one-another, even during these challenging economic times,” he said.
“Our first response to challenges and issues must always be one that puts country above self and especially so, as we get ready to celebrate 55 years of independence. I remain optimistic that we can go forward in mutual respect of our diversity and uniqueness.”