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The Tobago Civil Society Network (CivilNET) is appealing to the Joint Select Committee (JSC), responsible for drafting Tobago’s autonomy bills, not to submit their recommendations to Parliament by May 31, 2021.

CivilNET said some aspects of the two drafts, such as the island’s increased annual allocation to Tobago and its fiscal and legislative authority, are steps in the right direction.

However, the body says the bills are not in keeping with the premise of the island’s autonomy and deny Tobago equitable status and the right to self-determination.

The non-partisan group comprised of prominent Tobagonians, made its appeal at a virtual media conference yesterday.

Explaining the rationale behind their appeal, association leader, businesswoman Shirley Cooke, said the two 2020 drafts­—Tobago Island Government and Constitution Amendment (Tobago Self Government) Bills —, do not contain the wishes of Tobagonians.

“These (2020) bills have raised grave concerns…and do not contain a Bill of Rights and places governance of Tobago in a Constitution controlled by Trinidad,” Cooke said.

She said the general belief is that the 2016 and 2018 drafts sent to Parliament are more representative of the way forward for the island’s autonomy.

Cooke said the group will not restart the consultation process but use the body of work from the previous consultations.

She said the network wants Tobago’s 12 elected Assemblymen to lead the new thrust to have Tobagonians’ wishes reflected in the bills.

The civil society said it will begin its media blitz to get Tobagonians to rally around the elements of the former draft bills. They want the rights of islanders established and the island’s physical space outlined in autonomy bills going forward.

CivilNET member, former UWI member Dr Winford James, said the association will “come up with an alternative to the ones that we have seen in the drafts.”

Asked about the association’s next move if the JSC submits the draft bills to Parliament, James said only then will the civil society understand if the JSC has included information from the recent public consultation held in Tobago.

“There will be more agitation. There will be more public discussion and debate on the bills from May 31,” James said

The JSC draft autonomy bills contain proposals for the island to be run by a legislature headed by the president and 15 elected Assemblymen. It also includes an Executive Council headed by a Premier.