Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Farley Augustine, has shut down claims by the Prime Minister, that he has struck a deal with the United National Congress (UNC) for the 2025 general election.
Augustine’s statement comes on the heels of Dr Keith Rowley’s recent comments during a People’s National Movement (PNM) meeting in Mason Hall, where the PM stated that a deal had already been made.
Rowley referenced a 2021 letter sent to parliamentarians by Augustine, in which he (Augustine, proposed a bicameral system for the THA that resembles what exists in the United States.
According to Augustine, the current unicameral system is problematic and he wants two separate assemblies.
In an interview he did with GML, Augustine explained that one assembly would have 15 members, four councillors, a presiding officer and a president, all of whom will be elected by the Tobago population. The second assembly will see a chief secretary elected from a national vote. An executive council of unelected members will then be established by that officeholder. This suggestion means the island can be governed by two different political parties.
Augustine denied the PM’s words that the move was an attempt at a dictatorship, saying it would provide more transparency than what currently exists.
“Our argument is that a unicameral system without separation of powers is problematic and doesn’t provide sufficient checks and balances. Therefore, if there is going to be a unicameral system, there should be a separation of powers, which means that the Chief Secretary and his/her executive would operate under the checks of the parliament and the parliament would not be a parliament dominated by the executive,” Augustine said.
Augustine said the letter in question was not a “Farley letter, but a reflection of gaps in what the Government was proposing.”
He said: ” As a matter of fact, we argued that the proposed bill sent down to Parliament by Mr Orville London (PNM THA chief secretary from 2001 to 2017) was vastly different from the one that made its way to the Parliament’s floor. That letter from Mr Charles and myself reflected on those gaps, such as the absence of a proper geographical definition of Tobago in the bill.”’
The Chief Secretary also said he was not satisfied with Rowley’s proposed bill, which permits a chief secretary to make assembly officials members of the executive.
“What Charles and I proposed is that there be separation of powers. It means that secretaries have to be confirmed or approved by the Parliament (assembly) before selection (as in the US system). This means that the parliament (assembly) has to sit and approve all the policy directives of the executive. This also means that members of the parliament are responsible only for their districts and are therefore more mindful of the ideas and desires of their districts as opposed to the parties they represent,” he said.
‘Tobago is my only concern at this moment’
Augustine also denied Dr Rowley’s allegation that he struck a deal with the Opposition to facilitate this desired arrangement.
“I have never had any conversation with the UNC about the Tobago bills or about any upcoming elections. Tobago stands alone when it comes to elections. With regards to the Tobago bills, we have to have conversations with both the PNM and the UNC in Trinidad as any bill will require a special majority. What concerns me is that the PM is suggesting that Tobago shouldn’t care about what is in the bill as long as we are getting more money. Tobagonians will be careful to ensure that it gets what it wants and that the bill stays true to what was actually sent down by Tobagonians to the Parliament,” he said.
“I really don’t care about the politics in Trinidad. I don’t care about the PNM-UNC divide. Tobago is my only concern at this moment,” he continued.