The members of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) who won six seats in the January 25 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, staged a sit-in at the Assembly Legislature building, Jerningham Street, Scarborough yesterday.
The PDP cited a breach of the THA’s Act relating to the procedures for selecting a presiding officer for the 2021-2025 THA term.
Addressing the public live on social media from the Assembly chamber during the sit-in, the PDP’s political leader and Assemblyman for Belle Garden East, Roxborough/Delaford Watson Duke said: “We are not leaving here until she (the clerk) returns and this house is called to order for the conduct of a meeting for the electing of a presiding officer.”
Before the PDP’s sit-in, the Assembly met, and the Assemblymen voted seven times for a presiding officer. Each ended with the same result as the Assemblymen voted along party lines, resulting in a tie. The PNM proposed Ingrid Melville, while the PDP chose Julien Skeete.
The PNM proposed a new nominee. However, members did not vote on the nominee as the person was not named.
The Clerk of the Assembly Merna McLeod ended the session after the seventh round of voting, adjourning the meeting to February 4. Dissatisfied with the move, Duke requested that the clerk continue the meeting.
She did not accede to his request.
This was the Assemblymen’s second attempt to elect a presiding officer as they held a meeting on January 28, just after they were sworn in by President Paula-Mae Weekes at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort.
Immediately following the meeting, the PDP’s deputy leader and candidates for Parlatuvier/L’Anse Fourmi/Speyside Farley Augustine explained why they objected to the clerk’s actions.
“When we look at Section (6) under the election of a presiding officer it says if the proposal is negative the clerk shall propose a like question in respect of any other member or person…in the order in which they were proposed,” Augustine said.
PNM gives its take on situation
The PNM also spoke with reporters after the session.
The party’s Lambeau/Signal Hill candidate Tracy Davidson-Celestine said their new nominee for the post is Dr Ken Johnson.
She hoped that the DPD would support Dr Johnson after rejecting the last nominee Ingrid Melville, saying she was unsuitable.
Addressing other issues, the area representative for Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant Ancil Dennis said three THA Secretaries – Kelvin Charles, Jomo Pitt, and Hayden Spencer resigned.
Charles, the former Chief Secretary, headed the Division of Education, Innovation, and Energy, while Spencer was the Secretary for Food Production, Forestry, and Fisheries. Pitt was Secretary for Youth Affairs and Sports.
Dennis had asked for the secretaries’ resignations as they did not offer themselves up as candidates in the January 25 THA elections and are no longer Assemblymen.
Dennis said the remaining secretaries would handle the additional portfolios.
According to a release from Dennis’ office, he would be responsibility for the Food Production, Forestry, and Fisheries.
Marslyn Melville-Jack will add the Education, Innovation, and Energy, to her existing Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour portfolio and Davidson-Celestine will take charge of the Youth Affairs and Sports Division.
The release said all assistant secretaries have relinquished their posts.
PDP crowd outside THA chamber
Meanwhile, a crowd of over 100 PDP supporters gathered outside the THA chamber in Scarborough around 9 pm last night clapping and singing gospel songs.
Police had to be called out to ensure that the proceedings remained peaceful.
Duke and the other Assemblymen came out and joined them.
“This struggle is a spiritual struggle. It is a struggle of the senior and the young people,” Duke said, in the middle of singing ‘This is the day that the Lord has made’.
He disagreed that the solution for the THA crisis should come from Trinidad, saying it is better for the representatives to sit down and fix the problem.
“What we are asking for is that this THA return to a place where we could make laws for good governance and public order,” he said.
He said they came to the Assembly yesterday with the intention of electing a presiding officer, only to find that the matter was put off after the votes.
He added, however, that by virtue of the PNM putting up a second candidate for the post of presiding officer, the PDP’s candidate is elected by default.
Deputy PDP political leader, Farley Augustine again urged the PNM to meet with them, saying they should be speaking with one voice to the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.
“These conditions are perfect for us to go down as 12 elected members and say to Trinidadians who don’t want to give us the right to govern ourselves the way we choose, now is the time to give it to us,” he said.
“When that happens it will be an ideal time to go back to the polls.
We ain’t fraid to go back to the polls. The numbers are on our side,” he said.
The representatives returned to the Assembly after addressing the crowd.
Duke said they will remain their until the clerk comes back and restarts the meeting.