The Parliament yesterday voted in favour of amending the Tobago House of Assembly (Amendment) Bill, which will change the number of electoral districts in Tobago to 15 to allow for fresh election after the January 25 six-six deadlock.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who piloted the bill, said the proposal to have 15 electoral areas in Tobago instead of the current 12 is to ensure another tie doesn’t occur again.
Rowley said he had heard of action from some in Trinidad and Tobago on a pre-action protocol letter served on the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) clerk yesterday.
He said this was a matter for the law but said he had to be guided on the law in the situation where the Assembly stands dissolved almost a month after the election.
Despite 12 Assembly representatives being elected in the tied result, no presiding officer could be elected to get operations going.
Dr Rowley said as T&T’s chief executive officer, he was duty-bound to act within the law and couldn’t sit on his hands and not allow Tobago to have an elected executive. He said he’d received “high quality” legal advice from senior counsel on the matter which he cited.
On the change to 15 seats, he said returning to elections with 12 wasn’t an improvement.
He noted that contesting with an even number caused the problem. “Common sense says we should go to an odd number to eliminate deadlock possibility. It’s a good, sane sober guide for us to follow.”
Other changes in the bill will allow the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to arrange for the 15 areas and to have a report on the boundaries sent to the Parliament. An election cannot be held without that.
When Parliament accepts the report, then the EBC can go and prepare for the elections and the THA Chief Secretary can call an election date. That would be within a two-month period – 35 days minimum and 90 days maximum.
Rowley noted the Opposition leader’s threats that she would sue him if he did what he was doing yesterday with the bill. He said there had been ideas and suggestions put forward but nothing in law. Rowley said it takes a law to change a law and it fell to him to change the law for Tobago to move on. He said he respected all opinions and paid attention to those rooted in law.
“None of the other solutions presented complies with the law. I searched the THA act up and down and it doesn’t provide for any coin toss, cutting grass and pulling straw; I heard about a Council of Elders, Robinson Crusoe coin toss, Graybeard Association to run Tobago – these are ideas but none of that is in the law.”
He said the matter was not atomic physics and is important for Tobagonians. Rowley started off his contribution forgetting to name the bill. He was reminded by the House Speaker. He didn’t seem to understand, asking “The what?!” He was told the clerk would assist him. He then quipped “I think the infection on the front bench spreading”.
UNC Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes argued that it was not for the Parliament to determine how many electoral districts Tobago needed, but for the EBC to do so.
She said the Parliament could call for more districts but argued that as long as the Parliament tells the EBC how many districts it must find, then that erodes the independence of the EBC.
The bill was passed by a division of 21 for, 18 against and no abstentions.