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Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, as she addressed the newly sworn in Assemblymen in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), on Thursday January 28, 2021. Picture courtesy the Assembly Legislature of the Tobago House of Assembly

President Paula-Mae Weekes assented to the Tobago House of Assembly (Amendment) Act 2021 on March 16, 2021, making the legislation, passed in the Lower House—February 19 and Senate- March 2, law.

This paves the way for fresh elections in Tobago after the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) reports to Parliament on how it divided the increased number of electoral districts from 12 to 15.

The Act said the EBC has to create 15 seats within 90 days of the Act’s proclamation.

It also includes a mechanism to break the existing deadlock that occurred as the People’s National Movement (PNM) and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) won six seats each in the January 25 Tobago House of Assembly elections.

The stalemate in the THA continues as the parties have not solved how to convene the Assembly and create a new administration.

Two Tobago businesswomen, representing major business organisations on the island said the situation cannot continue.

Diane Hadad, head of the Tobago Chapter of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC) and Carol-Ann Birchwood-James, vice-president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, both say it is time for the parties to get back to the proposed power-sharing negotiation table with mediators.

After the parties’ first in-person meeting ended with discord on March 17, the PDP called for another meeting on March 22 with independent negotiators.

The PNM said it is willing to meet but did not say whether it had agreed on the date or mediators.

Hadad, a businesswoman, told Guardian Media she has three issues with the ongoing situation.

“Tobago is in limbo. The outcome of the meeting showed that Tobagonians needs were not placed first. Also, they should have been a sound mind sitting in those meetings doing mediation. I would hate to think that we are being played, and it’s a gimmicky game going on. It seems that people are playing for time to ensure that they get their way. This causes suffering for Tobagonians.”

She continued, “It seems as though some people want to control and place their people in places to get what they want to be done or cover their tracks for what they did.”

Birchwood-James, who also owns and controls a large beach resort in Tobago said the current situation is “untenable.”

She said the PDP and PNM must meet again, but this time with a “skilled negotiator.”

“The 12 assemblymen must come together with a chief negotiator. An experienced negotiator knows what to do to conclude and decide whether there is any basis for going forward. They just can’t talk among themselves.”

She added, “If you have no winners and no losers, you cannot have one set of people behaving as though they are winners. That is not good for democracy.”

Meanwhile, in a release on Friday, March 19, the PNM said the THA’s Act #40 of 1996 would dictate the talks’ outcome.

It said the PDP has agreed to support the PNM’s quest to fill the chief secretary and presiding officers positions.

It also said that based on the THA Act, the chief secretary is responsible for choosing the Secretaries and assistant secretaries.

The PDP on Wednesday said it would not agree to the PNM determining who is placed in positions.

“No six is greater than any six…and the PNM cannot behave as though they are in control.”