PNM, PDP clash over draft autonomy bill


The Assembly Legislature, Scarborough. FILE PHOTO/Jeff K Mayers

Assemblyman for Roxborough/ Delaford Watson Duke has slammed the Draft Tobago Self Government Bill, made available to the public by the Joint Select Committee for consideration, as “a vacant paper” not reflecting the wishes of Tobagonians.

In a Facebook live on Tuesday, Duke said the bill is so designed to keep Tobago a colony of Trinidad, noting that it denies Tobago the right to govern itself.

He said: “I dare say, it is a bill that would be rejected by the people of Tobago. Therefore, it forces me to ask the question: is Dr Rowley really serious about Tobago and Tobago’s self-governance?

“Is the PNM really serious about Tobago and Tobago’s self-governance.”

But Tobago West MP and JSC member Shamfa Cudjoe believes the bill, in companion with the Tobago Island Administration Bill, will advance Tobago’s interest considerably.

In a programme on social media titled Face to Face, Cudjoe said, “What it basically does, if you look at clause four and five, we as a Government, we as a people, see it necessary to enshrine in our Constitution that the people of Tobago deserve their right to self determination, to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,.”

She said it is important that this is written into the Constitution.

“This speaks of equality of status, that we are nobody’s little sister or a ward. We are equal,” she said.

Duke said Tobago wants a governance system which puts it on equal footing with Trinidad.

“Some type of system where there is a Tobago Island Government, a Trinidad Island Government and a Trinidad and Tobago Island Government.

“One that does not place Trinidad in a superior position to Tobago. One where Tobago is properly defined as well as Trinidad is defined, and the same yardstick you use to measure Tobago, you must use the same to measure Trinidad.”

He said as political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), he would continue championing the cause, noting that this is something he intends to take up fully and “I would go to new levels with my challenging for that.”

Duke said the Prime Minister was “coming with a vacant piece of paper with a lot of words on it.

“Nothing is said on that paper that makes sense to Tobago. We want to say to you that we reject your so-called bill, and it would seem to us that you’re trying to frustrate the desires of Tobagonians.”

He said the PNM has failed to deliver on promises of autonomy despite winning the two Tobago seats in the national election.

He added: “We are prepared for the type of social, economic, cultural revolution and political revolution that is necessary to declare Tobago an equal partner in the sovereign state of Trinidad and Tobago. We are not subservient to Trinidad and I refuse that.

“When I look around my island all I see is beauty, people who just want to live, want to survive, who wants the chance to determine their own political systems – how it should be, how much seats we should have, whether we should have a Senate or a People’s House. We should determine those things. We should be able to solve all our own political problems, we must be able to solve that. We are looking for the right to determine our own economic future, our own economic development.”

Cudjoe said the Draft Tobago Island Administration Bill proposes a minimum of 6.8 per cent of the national budget with no set maximum.

She said a Fiscal Review Commission, comprising the Minister of Finance, Secretary of Finance, two members of Cabinet and a member from the Tobago Island Government, could propose an increase based on the developmental agenda on the island.

“It doesn’t have to be 6.8 per cent, it could be more,” she said.

Tobago currently receives 4.03 per cent based on the recommendations of the Dispute Resolutions Commission.

Duke said the PNM Central Government is side-stepping the major issues that are affecting TT.

“The big issue is whether Rowley get covid19 or not. Whether Rowley frighten to take the injection or not; that is the big issue for some people, and that is no issue.

“The real issue is that all of these fishermen, to get gas in their boats they must go, buy gas from a gas station, tote it on their backs, bring it out here and then swim out to sea, which is illegal (covid19 restrictions). There is no marina in Tobago, there is no place in Tobago where people can pull up with their boats and gas up.”

He said the autonomy bill should release Tobago from being ” a colony of Trinidad” and dependent upon commands from Trinidad.

“Somehow the PNM in Tobago are comfortable with that.”

He said Tobago depends on Trinidad for cooking gas, bread, medication and other basic goods.

“We have so much beauty here and failed to capitalise on it.”

Despite losing the Tobago East and West seats in the 2020 general election, Duke called for fresh elections.

He promised unprecedented protest action to highlight the Government’s failing.

(with reporting by STEPHON NICHOLAS)

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