The People’s National Movement (PNM) says it may take six months to resolve the current constitutional crisis in Tobago.
The crisis was created as the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act does not address how to break a deadlock if a presiding officer is not elected.
The PNM and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), which won six seats each in the January 25 THA elections, met in the THA Chamber yesterday and each party had its own nominee for presiding officer.
The PNM proposed Ingrid Melville while the PDP put forward Julian Skeete.
After the Assembly’s clerk Merna McLeod did four polls for the position— two by secret ballot and two via a public vote—the deadlock remained.
Citing the THA’s Act, as she abandoned the day’s proceedings saying that it could go no further.
“Members of this house have exhausted the Standing Order 3 of the Tobago House of Assembly. As such this process cannot continue,” she said.
However, PDP deputy political leader Farley Augustine pointed to another clause in the act, indicating that there was another way to proceed.
“Madame clerk I wish to respectfully interject and point your attention to Standing Order 92:1 which indicates that where the Standing Orders do not give a clear provision for anything, the Assembly’s Standing Orders may revert to the Trinidad and Tobago Act.”
He suggested casting lots.
However, the clerk was not prepared to entertain Farley’s suggestion.
According to the act, if no presiding officer is elected, the Assembly’s legislative cannot carry out its functions. It is the Presiding Officer’s responsibility to choose a Chief Secretary, who in turn chooses Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries. The Secretaries form the Executive Council which makes policy decisions and distributes the island’s resources.
PNM Tobago hoping for resolution within six months
Addressing the issue immediately after the meeting in the Assembly Legislature building on Jerningham Street, Scarborough, PNM-elected Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said the matter cannot be resolved right away.
“I will hope that it is within six months, but I really can not give a specific timeframe because it is not up to me.”
Questioned on how Tobago will be governed under the circumstances, the PNM’s Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine said the act addresses the matter.
“It (act) says that the Executive Council continues to function in a situation where the House is dissolved. As it is now, the Executive Council will comprise of the Chief Secretary, Deputy Chief Secretary and not more than seven members of the Assembly.”
Reminded that some of the current Executive Council members were rejected at the polls, Dennis said it did not matter.
“The advice so far is that those persons can continue to function as Secretaries because they were in dual capacities – Councillors and Secretaries and Assemblymen and Secretaries.”
He said the only way to resolve the matter may be to change the THA’s laws in Parliament.
“The lawmakers of this country must move quickly and treat with this. I even recommend that we do not go back to the polls with an odd number of seats. The only way out of this is to change the legislative arrangements and I suspect that it will lead us back to the polls,” Dennis said.
He also toyed with the idea that there could be “minor” adjustments to the THA Act to resolve the issue.
PDP to write Clerk of THA
The PDP addressed the media immediately after. They said that “unlike the PNM”, the PDP wants the matter resolved.
Augustine accused the PNM of using “grey areas in the law to hold on to power.”
He said the PDP wants the matter addressed “quickly, within a week to two weeks.”
He said the party will send a letter to the Clerk of the House to have her reconvene the Assembly to elect a presiding officer. He said the party is also ready to go to court on this matter.
On the issue of the existing Executive Council remaining in office indefinitely, he said that was not acceptable.