Independent Senators, whose votes are needed for passage of the Tobago House of Assembly (Amendment) Bill, will weigh in on debate on the Bill in the Senate today.
Following the January 25 THA election tie of six(PNM) and six (PDP) and assemblymen’s recent repeated inability to elect a presiding officer to get the THA going, the Bill seeks to have fresh elections in Tobago and expansion of Tobago’s seats from 12 to 15.
The bill was passed in the Lower House just over a week ago. It required a simple majority of votes and could have been passed there ,with Government’s 21 votes alone.
For passage in the Senate., however, the Bill requires the support of at least one Opposition or Independent Senator together with Government’s 15 Senate votes.
The Opposition UNC rejected the Bill in the Lower House and its Senators won’t be supporting it in the Senate today, the party’s stated.
The UNC has stated there is no need for election as the law already holds mechanisms to resolve ties using recourse to the Standing Order of the Parliament. In that scenario, election of a presiding officer where there is a ties of votes can be resolved by drawing of straws.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, however, yesterday maintained Government’s argument that the changed law was needed for Tobago to manage its business following the tied elections and to have constitutionality of systems that would allow this.
He said the Opposition’s arguments proposing using other law could not work for the THA which has its own law to elect a presiding officer. That usually involves a process where assemblymen would vote for the officer. But he noted the repeated failed attempts to elect the officer. The PDP last week sent the Clerk of the Assembly legal warning.
Once the Bill is passed and proclaimed, the seat arrangement is done by the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
When that’s completed EBC will do a report to be sent to Parliament. This is debated and approved. THA’s Chief Secretary (Ancil Dennis) will announce a date for the election.
There’s been speculation this may be in May since the THA has to debate and pass its 2021 Budget and deliver it to the Finance Ministry by June for input to the planning process for the national 2021 Budget.
Al- Rawi, however, said if the THA Budget isn’t ready by June, Finance has mechanisms to deal with the issue and proceed with Budget planning.
Both PNM and PDP have been reinforcing with members on the “ground” .
The PNM particularly which lost territory – moving from 10 seats previously to six – has held a series of meetings in areas.