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Opposition members in Trinidad stage walkout during debate on Tobago


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Opposition members in Trinidad stage walkout during debate on Tobago
Dr Keith Rowley (FILE)

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Port of Spain – Prime Minister Dr Keith Rwley Tuesday made an impassioned plea for Parliament to support efforts to grant self-government to Tobago even as opposition legislators walked out of the debate on the issue.

The ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) government needs a special three-fourths majority or 31 legislators to approve of the legislation. The government controls 22 of the 41 seats in the Parliament with the remainder going to the United National Congress (UNC).

Rowley told legislators that “history would not be kind” should the legislation fail to pass, noting that the debate on self-government for Tobago had been taken place for several years, with at least one of the legislators participating in the debate “who was born after this motion came alive in Trinidad and Tobago”.

“Madam Speaker, no one can understand this debate, the content of these bills, the conduct of this motion without having an understanding and a sense of the history of Trinidad and Tobago in the last 30 years or there about,” Rowley said as Parliament debated whether to accept the Report of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the Bill entitled “The Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self Government) Bill, 2020”.

He said it is for this reason “why I want to say to all members of this House and particularly members of the Tobago community who are being told that this motion is some disservice to them, something that is backward, something that is unworthy of acceptance and so on.

“What we are Madam Speaker is adding to a foundation which has been built, one that has been contentious, one that has seen happiness, one that has seen disappointment  and I dare say discord”.

Rowley, who was born on the island of Tobago, said he was disappointed that the opposition legislators had during their contributions sought to delay acceptance of the initiative to grant self-governance to Tobago.

“. . . What is before this House is the work of the entire Parliament , a Joint Select Committee of which the PNM participated. It had opposition members, it had independent members  and so far the government members and the independent members support this motion with the signatures.”

Rowley warned that the legislation would “fall on the support or lack thereof of the UNC nine votes”, adding “you can’t hide from that, you took an oath of office and you cannot revile from that now”.

“”If you were unfit to take that oath then tell us now and create a vacancy for a bye election, but I don’t think that this is so. If it is too much to carry then say so and PNM will help you, but we can guarantee to the people of Tobago that this matter requires 31 votes and there are 22 PNM votes be cast for this motion and it needs nine more for Tobago’s future to be changed,” said Rowley.

Rowley, who was winding up the debate on the Report, said he was disappointed that the Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar had not been present to make her contribution to an important issue before the House, urging Tobagonians to “to understand the meaning of that absence”.

He said the opposition had not made “a single amendment to the bill” and that they were saying “they will not vote for it because they needed more time”.

But as the Leader of the Government Business, Camille Robinson Regis sought to have the Parliament approve of 60 more minutes for the Prime Minister to wind up the debate, Persad Bissessar, who then made an appearance in the Chamber, stood up and objected to the move.

She and the opposition legislators claimed that this was against the existing Standing Orders and then walked out of the Chamber.

“It is not for me to provide leadership to the UNC . . . but where the country is concerned, the country needs to do better,” Rowley said.

The Parliament will resume on Wednesday when the vote on the Report is expected to take place. (CMC)