The Opposition UNC’s arguments against proposed law to enable fresh Tobago House of Assembly elections have completely missed the mark, says Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi .
He responded yesterday to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s arguments on Monday against the proposed Bill.
The Bill, being debated in Parliament on Friday, is aimed at providing a solution after the January 25 THA election resulted in a 6-6 tie between the Peoples’ National Movement (PNM) and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) .
Both subsequently failed three times to elect a presiding office – the first step to try to get an Assembly office holders in place.
The Bill involves expanding Tobago’s electoral districts from 12 to 15 areas and facilitates calling of fresh elections if an Assembly isn’t installed within 14 days of an election result.
The Bill can be passed by a simple majority – Government votes alone if necessary. If passed on Friday, it will be debated in the Senate next week.
But at Monday’s UNC meeting, Persad-Bissessar strongly opposed the need for the Bill .
Yesterday, Al Rawi replied:
“I welcome the Opposition leader’s new found interest in Tobago considering that UNC in recent memory didn’t even bothered to field a seat for Tobago East or West in general elections – or in recent THA polls.”
On her queries about increasing Tobago’s 12 THA seats to 15, he said,
“I remind her of the Joint Select Committee which was established to consider the Tobago Autonomy Bill and that report’s recommendation for 15 seats – plus the fact that her party was well represented on that JSC and would know details of the matter including seats and the several years of consultations which resulted in the procedures on that Bill.”
He said the Election and Boundaries Commission that decides on boundary lines and Government has no role in this. “They will do their duty in accordance with the law, with the distinction they’ve carried themselves with,” he said.
On Persad-Bissessar’s “advice” on breaking the deadlock, he added: “This is remarkably consistent with advice from the PDP and Watson Duke who threatened to go to court. But the route proposed by them doesn’t arise in law. I welcome any UNC approach to the courts but I’m confident her advice is wrong.”
He said that was because the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (HOR) and SO of the THA Act both provide for the manner in which a presiding officer is to be elected .
“THA’s Standing Orders says where a matter isn’t provided for under those SO, they have reference to the HOR’s Standing Orders. So her arguments fail right there as THA’s Standing Orders do provide terms how a presiding officer is to be elected. But they tried three times to elect the officer and failed.”
Al-Rawi accused Persad- Bissessar of making recommendations – concerning drawing of lots – which showed disdain for the office of Tobago’s Chief Secretary
“It’s ludicrous to equate the election of a Chief Secretary which is a position such as quasi prime minister of Tobago with the House Speaker. The latter’s elected by the majority which is the Government. The House’s Standing Orders does not really equate the comparison of a Speaker to a quasi prime minister.”
“So she is showing disdain for Tobago by recommending that something as important as who the THA picks for their quasi prime ministership , be done by drawing lots – and it shouldn’t,” he said.