Former chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Hochoy Charles says the three political parties in Tobago—People’s National Movement, Progressive Democratic Patriots, and One Tobago Voice—should write the United Nations Commission on Human Rights if the two Joint Select Committee’s (JSC) draft bills on Tobago’s internal self-government are not withdrawn.
Charles said his renewed thrust to have the bills reconsidered comes as the JSC extended its deadline for written submissions on the drafts on Tuesday.
Tobagonians had a chance to share their views publicly on the drafts, The Constitution (Amendment Tobago Self-Government) Bill 2021 and the Tobago Island Government Bill, 2021, on May 30 and April 1.
The Trinidad consultation, scheduled for May 3, did not take place as four participants showed interest, the JSC says. They were allowed to submit their contributions in writing, the JSC added.
The consultations, advertised as in-person and virtual meetings, were done virtually after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced restrictions on crowd sizes the day before.
The two 2021 bills came out of a draft bill sent to Cabinet soon after Rowley became Prime Minister in 2015. Parliament set up the JSC to study it and make recommendations.
That draft, created after years of widespread consultations in Tobago, included a cross-section of the community and local, regional, and international experts.
Commenting on the JSC drafts at a virtual press briefing on Tuesday Charles said the draft showed Minister Camille Robinson-Regis-chaired committee “misunderstood” its role.
He described the consultation as “flawed” and “immoral.”
Asked if the process to prepare the final bills were flawed, Charles said it is.
He said in 2014 it was sent to Trinidad with “instructions” to grant internal self-government to Tobago.
“Internal self-government is an inalienable right. You don’t discuss that, so they (JSC) were engaging in an exercise they know was improper and in violation of international law,” Charles added.
Charles first made his feelings known about the drafts soon after appearing virtually before the JSC’s consultation in Scarborough on April 30, 2021.
He said the mediation committee clause, giving responsibility to a committee to settle disputes between Tobago and Trinidad, is an example of what is wrong with the bills.
The committee comprises the prime minister, premier, two cabinet members, and one executive council member.
“These (JSC) people who prepare the document say we are going to set up the same set of people as the mediation committee to settle the dispute that they could not settle…that is how foolish this is,” Charles said.
He said the time has come for the three Tobago political parties to redraft the bills and send them to Parliament as they do not reflect what was sent to Trinidad.
If that is not done, it would be time for the next step.
“We need to start preparing our complaints. Start preparing our resolutions … to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights…saying that Trinidad continues to operate a colony that is called Tobago in violation of the international law.”
The JSC has until May 31, 2021, to present the draft bills before Parliament.