Stories by Renuka Singh
The Cabinet will soon look at two draft amendments to rectify the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deadlock.
Speaking at a media conference yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said that after consultations with senior counsels and the Attorney General, there are two draft amendments that should be before Cabinet “shortly”.
Since the January 25 THA elections ended in a six-six tie, the assemblymen have been unable to decide on a presiding officer and the Assembly has not been constituted.
“I am advised that a draft amendment could be before the Cabinet in a matter of days,” Rowley said.
The first proposed amendment, Rowley said, would grant one person the authority to break future deadlocks and the second amendment would seek to change the number of seats from the current twelve.
“Thankfully that issue had already been dealt with in Tobago. There has been a series of consultations in Tobago. Those consultations resulted in draft bills being drawn up. Those bills have ended up in the Parliament and they are being actively worked upon by a joint select committee,” he said.
Rowley said that in those draft bills there is a recommendation that the number of seats in Tobago should be 15.
He said that recommendation would be taken to Parliament for debate.
The amendments to the THA Act, though, would not require Opposition support and could be passed with the Government’s majority.
“Once the Parliament agrees to put into force such amendments, then that will now authorize the EBC (Elections and Boundaries Commission) to treat with Tobago in a seat arrangement which is different to what exists now,” Rowley said.
“Only then would the EBC act in anything other than 12 seats,” he said.
Rowley said for the EBC to act, they would have to do their work in the field in Tobago and then put a report to Parliament.
“The same way they do with local government, the same way they do with general elections,” he said.
“Once that comes into force the EBC will have to put to Parliament a report saying what number of seats, where they are, how many electors in each seat and so on,” Rowley said.
Rowley said that once Parliament accepts that report, then an election could be called in Tobago.
He said with the amendments, there would not be another tie.
“Even if you have an odd number, it does not prevent a deadlock from taking place. It makes it very difficult or unlikely.
Rowley said that resolution would be completed as soon as possible.
“When it gets to Parliament, it will be debated and once it passes both Houses of Parliament, it will be an instruction to the EBC,” he said.
Rowley said the EBC was “out in Tobago not too long ago” doing its work for the 12-seat election.
“This absence of an authority to break a deadlock, one can say it was unforeseen, one can say it was not very visionary, that does not change the price of cocoa,” he said.
Head of the EBC Fern Narcis-Scope yesterday told Guardian Media that the organisation needed sight of the amendments before it could properly comment.
“The amount of work for the organisation would obviously increase depending on the additional number of seats being considered,” Narcis-Scope said via WhatsApp yesterday.
“Further comments would be premature,” she said.