By Stephen Kangal
April 23, 2010
The decision taken by the Manning Administration to sign the secretive T&T/Grenada Maritime Boundary Treaty on Wednesday 21 April while he has dissolved Parliament is illegal from the perspective of the laws of T&T. This is a treaty that could have the effect of decreasing the geographical extent of our maritime jurisdiction by establishing delimitation boundaries that decrease the areal limits of our vital northern hydrocarbon-producing marine areas.
We do not know if this is the consequence because even after the signing ceremony the text of the Treaty has not been handed to the media. Such an illegal Treaty in the uncertainties of current electioneering season should have been the subject of dialogue/consultations with the Opposition parties including TOP and the THA. The location of Tobago is critical to the fixing of the agreed maritime boundary. Politically speaking their agreement although not mandatory must be obtained prior to signature in the interest of ensuring diplomatic continuity. This is the ethical and correct course of action. But these principles or modus operandi are foreign to Manning and his cronies. Arrogance and lack of transparency is the hall-mark of the law-creating modus operandi of the PNM in its current incarnation. The people does not matter even where our boundaries are concerned.
He signed it hurriedly because he wanted to pander to the Grenadian diasporic community based in T&T for votes ahead of the 24 May elections.
All treaties signed by either the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs must first have the prior approval of the Cabinet and not the other way around. Accordingly the signing of the T&T/Grenada Treaty by PM Manning on April 21 and the treaty itself are both illegal because the Treaty did not have the prior approval of Cabinet.
Contrary to the statement attributed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Paula Gopee-Scoon Cabinet does not ratify treaties- only the Minister of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Republic of T&T.
Even the Prime Minister cannot sign an Instrument of Ratification on behalf of T&T. Only the Foreign Minister can enter into treaty relations with foreign states. Cabinet exclusively and not the Minister of Foreign Affairs and/or Prime Minister approves treaties. Who approved the T&T/Grenada Maritime Boundary Treaty prior to the signing ceremony?
In fact the Government of PM Tillman Thomas of Grenada taking into account the dissolution of the T&T Parliament only after two and a half years and the current election campaigning should have decided to postpone the signing ceremony until the results of the T&T elections were determined.
This will have also helped to cool opposition anger in both T&T and Grenada.
By signing this Treaty the Manning Cabinet is involved in making municipal and international law when a non-existent Parliament possesses that law-creating capacity. This treaty has international law legal competence but not competence in T&T’s jurisdiction.
The contents of the Treaty that establish the limits of our maritime jurisdiction with Grenada have not been divulged in the public domain by the Minister of Foreign Affairs nor discussed with the Opposition Parties contesting the General Elections. This Treaty will bind the Opposition parties (UNC/COP coalition) should they form the next Government of T&T. They can also decide to denounce the Treaty and not proceed with the stipulated ratification process as the UNC in opposition decided in respect of the CCJ. The new AG can declare the treaty null and void from a local law perspective.
Potential denunciation of the Treaty by a Bissessar-led Administration can cause national embarrassment and injure T&T relations with Grenada. In July 1991 Opposition Leader Patrick Manning vigorously opposed the ratification of the T&T/Venezuela Maritime Boundary Agreement by the NAR. (see article) He even threatened to denounce, ignore and not to register the Agreement with the United Nations were he to form the Government which he did.
The Manning Administration made a total mess with the negotiation of a boundary with Barbados in 2004. By 2006 the Arbitral Tribunal, through inept argumentation by T&T at the hearings in London, imposed a maritime boundary on T&T that was unfair, zone-locked/shelf-locked T&T and allocated thousands of square miles of our potential oil-bearing marine areas to Barbados.
The reputation/stewardship of the Manning Government hitherto in dealing with the maritime boundaries of T&T is quite pathetic. This Treaty with Grenada should have been subjected to careful and detailed public scrutiny/comments before any signing took place.
It must be elevated to an elections issue.