Tobago Self Government Bill To Amend Constitution by the Back Door

By Stephen Kangal
April 28, 2018

Stephen KangalWere the 1.3 million people domiciled in Trinidad to continue and persist in their laid-back complacent mode it could be a case of the unilateral, Tobago -centred and driven large scale amendment of the 1976 Republican Constitution using the back door provided by the Tobago Self-Government Bill No 5 of 2018 that is now before a JSC for its evaluation, scrutiny, amendments and report back to Parliament.

Need for Feedback From Trinidad

Having regard to the radical and widespread provisions in that Bill that attempts to rewrite The Preamble as well as other important sections of the Constitution I believe that this Bill should have been subjected to further scrutiny and feed-back from the people of Trinidad prior to introduction into the House. It cannot be what Tobago wants it gets irrespective of the wishes of the people of Trinidad.
Tobago’s self-governance agenda incorporated into a Bill is substantively Trinidad and Tobago’s business as well and not exclusively and singularly that of the people of Tobago. This is what the Prime Minister seems to believe and act on from his Tobago-perspective during introduction of the Bill in the House on 9 March 2018. He needs to see himself as the Prime Minister of T&T first and foremost.

This is what he said in the House then:

”…The current status, Madam Speaker, as I conclude. The Constitution (Amdt.) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018, has been developed after a very long and transparent process of research, extensive public consultations and a genuine desire to advance and improve the process of granting further autonomy to the island of Tobago within the context of the sovereign democratic state of Trinidad and Tobago…”

It seems to me that if Prime Minister Rowley were to have his way, his day and his sway he would subordinate the legitimate collective interests of the people of Trinidad to give precedence and priority to the insular but reasonable aspirations of Tobago in complete violation of the unitary statehood principle.

After all Manning’s as well as PNM’s dictat was: what Tobago wants Tobago gets.

Is the Bill a Policy Framework?

This Bill is very poorly drafted, lacks harmony and co-ordination and is replete with a litany of major and elementary errors. It makes radical incursions to rewrite the Constitution. One does not know whether this is a Bill or a policy framework to guide bill formulation as the PM said:

”Accordingly, this document has been developed as a policy document for the enactment of legislation to advance the process of self-government and autonomy for Tobago.”

Opposition members of the JSC are being asked to amend Government policy or even to change it. That is very un-parliamentary and quite unusual.

Consequential plans are afoot in the Bill to effect:

  • a consequential redefinition of the maritime jurisdiction of Trinidad and Tobago (Section 1(2)), to accord with the Tobago Bill’s definition of the range of the Tobago Statute which contains concepts of the new law of the sea that are not included in the Constitution at Section 1 (2). I am referring to the concept of archipelagic waters to define the limits of Tobago’s law-making capacity;
  • introducing into the Preamble the highly controversial concept of self-determination in the Constitution of an independent state;
  • li>to endow Tobago with a nonsensical equality of status with Trinidad in Section 1 whatever that means to an archipelagic state of twenty three islands when the 1996 THA Act removed that stigma of a ward forever and

  • to repeal the entire Chapter 11 A of the Constitution to provide for an exorbitantly priced and a vertical densely packed Self-Government of Tobago of elected/nominated institutional infrastructure.

The Right to Self-Determination

This is the excerpt from the Bill relating to the inclusion of the concept of self-determination in the Preamble of the 1976 Constitution:

  • 4. The Preamble of the Constitution is amended by inserting after paragraph (c), the following paragraph:
  • ” (ca) recognise the right to self-determination of the people of Trinidad and Tobago including the right of the people of Tobago to determine in Tobago their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development;”

This is a most expansive and dangerous provision that is based on false assumptions regarding the legal and international status of the concept of the principle of self-determination in already Independent States. The Bill assumes that T&T has recognized it as a human/political right and that the people of Trinidad subscribes to the recognition of this position and that they support its inclusion among the fundamental rights listed in the preamble of the Constitution. This is patently false, misleading and this provision must be expunged from the text of the Bill.

Throughout the Bill the people of Trinidad are being taken for granted and for a ride along dangerous paths of precedent setting and false assumptions. The self-determination concept is being linked to the futuristic right of the people of Tobago to make a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI):

“…determine in Tobago their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development…”

What does “in Tobago” mean and what is the agenda that compromises the tenour of the Preamble? Will the future political status be determined in Tobago exclusively bypassing the Parliament of T&T?

This omnibus clause has to be curbed and made conditional to existing statutes and laws and the Parliament of T&T. It is not necessary in the Bill but certainly not in the Constitution.

After a series of previous aborted and failed attempts to achieve Constitutional Reform in Trinidad and Tobago the Tobago Self Government Bill is about to circumvent that mandatory time-consuming consultative process using the back door to effect radical changes to the Constitution and introduce new concepts and principles beyond the pale of an Act of Parliament. Parliament is not sovereign over the wishes of the people of T&T because the people collectively and electorally determine the configuration of Parliament. Parliament and its law-making function are subservient to the wishes of the people that are expressed in many ways and institutions.

Pre-Colonial Concept

The right to self- determination was a concept that applied to relations on independence conducted between colonial territories and their colonial masters. The principle does not apply between Trinidad and Tobago and Tobago and it is not only not necessary to be included in the 1976 Constitution but infringes the spirit of the Constitution and the unitary statehood of T&T.

The right to self- determination was never intended to be invoked as a basis for initiating future political changes between Trinidad and Tobago and the island of Tobago because T&T is an independent state in international relations. The Constitution should not be laying tracks for agouti, goats and crabs to run on later on as the political opportunity may be exploited or the principle invoked to be used as a platform for UDI.

This modus operandi must be opposed as it has the effect of depriving Trinidadians of their right to be heard on a most important and radically reforming national matter that can threaten the future integrity and viability of the unitary statehood of Trinidad and Tobago.

It may also be symbolic of the disrespect that native Tobagonians seem harbor towards Trinidadians on political matters in Tobago.

This clause must be completely removed from the Bill and not given Constitutional weight and status as it is quite dishonest and subversive in content and objective.

Equality of Status

5. The Constitution is amended by inserting after section 1, the following section:

1A. There shall be equality of status between the Island of Trinidad and the Island of Tobago within the sovereign democratic State of Trinidad and Tobago and the Island of Tobago shall no longer carry the designation of a ward.”.

T&T is not a twin- island Republic. It is since 1986 a 23- island UN sanctioned and recognised archipelagic state. It is necessary to outline the considerations on which the decision is based to attribute equal status to each of these two islands when both Gasparee and Nelson Islands are populated and should be accorded similar status since size and population are irrelevant to this determine this status of equality.

Besides this the question of ward-ship has been obliterated from the statutory lexicon since the THA Act of 1996 that accorded some measure of self- governance via the THA and the Chief Secretary to Tobago.

There is no need to include this provision in the Constitution as it is frivolous and vexatious and it is in fact a downgrade of the status of the Constitution. Ward-ship is the world of rumour- mongering, platformatics, cheap and street talk. We must not descend to this level of this street-talk and not pander to cheap Tobagonian folk-lore and give legitimacy to it Section 1 of the Constitution.

Why are we leaving out the other 21 islands of the archipelago when we need to address their status as well as if addressing status is fundamental to the self=governance of Tobago when it is conversational side issue not worthy of inclusion. We are speaking of intrusions into the main sections of the Constitution and it must not become a peg on which to hand frivolity.

Subject the Bill for Consideration by The People of Trinidad including Interest Groups, Political Parties and NGO’s

The Opposition must awaken to this open and even subtle demonstration of inequality and marginalisation by insisting on referring the Bill for widespread public discussions among the people of Trinidad after the work of the JSC is completed in July.

Referendum Needed

A Referendum must be conducted to ascertain the wishes of the people on self-government for Tobago (Bill No 5 of 2018) and proposals to amend important parts of the Constitution.

This is the only legitimate and compulsory road-map to be pursued and followed along the journey of granting self-government and autonomy to the people of Tobago in order to guide and configure their future destiny as well as cutting their coat according to their cloth that may be available to them.