Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has denied the People’s National Movement (PNM) was against Tobago self-governance back in 1996 when the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act was drafted.
The Prime Minister’s denial comes after Guardian Media reported an interview with former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj who drafted the THA legislation and who said on Wednesday his initial THA draft legislation was intended to give Tobago full internal self-governance within the Republic of T&T.
He said, however, it was the PNM that opposed that and the current legislation was hammered out instead.
“I want to make it abundantly clear standing here as Prime Minister today and as Political Leader of the PNM, that after 25 years, I will ascribe to Mr Maharaj some fogginess of memory,” he said.
“I myself can be subjected to that, I know what that is,” he said.
Speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday, Rowley picked apart Maharaj’s statements and said that his (Maharaj’s) recall of the events were off.
“With all the political implications of this statement, I must, I must in the fullness of ways, say that if what is here is what Mr Maharaj said and the Guardian got it correctly, this is completely incorrect,” Rowley said.
The Prime Minister produced a resolution that was laid at a PNM convention held in Chaguaramas in 2011 which was in support of the self-governance in Tobago.
Rowley read through the tenets that were in the Bill and in the Act.
“So it is not correct to say what exists now, causing this deadlock is something that we ended up with because in 1996 the PNM didn’t agree,” he said.
Rowley said that there was one aspect of Maharaj’s draft that the PNM did not agree to support.
“What did they take out of the Bill that had they left it in the Bill, it would have require PNM support. If that was left in the Bill, what they took out, it would have required a special majority but there were some things in the Bill that the PNM did not agree with and it is that that was taken out,” he said.
Rowley said he had no difficulty explaining what the PNM wanted out of the Bill.
The amendment that the PNM refused to agree to called for an increase in the number of senators from 31 to 37.
“That was the proposal in that Bill,” he said.
Rowley said that by increasing the number of senators, the number of Government senators would have been increased from 16 to 19 and it required at least one of the nine independent senators had to be a resident of Tobago. Another two senators would have to be appointed with guidance from the THA Chief Secretary, while another would be appointed with advice from the THA Minority Leader.
“That is what was in that Bill to amend the Constitution and that is what the PNM did not agree with and did not agree to support,” Rowley said.
“How is just changing the number of senators the same as giving Tobago self-government?” Rowley asked.
In a brief interview after Rowley’s press conference, Maharaj said that he believed his recollection of the 1996 events were correct but promised to check before responding to the Prime Minister on this matter.