Hochoy Charles: Put Tobago autonomy on front burner again

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former chief secretary Hochoy Charles –

Put Tobago self-government back on the front burner.

This is the cry of former Tobago House of Assembly (THA) chief secretary Hochoy Charles as he addressed members of the media during a news conference at his Breeze Hall, Scarborough office on Tuesday.

Charles said Tobago’s autonomy remains the most important issue to help the people of Tobago to face the future with certainty and confidence.

He recalled in 2021, prior to the December 6 THA elections, the matter was discussed and debated in Parliament but did not go further.

“All the parties… everybody said that it does not make any sense for us after six-six (THA election tie in Janaury 2021) to go back to go back to the polls – let us fix the internal self-government issue now and then we would go back to the polls once and for all.”

He noted that Tobago returned to the polls without addressing the self-government issue.

“Right now, where are we – the self-government issue is somewhere about in the Parliament, in some committee room in the Parliament and everything else is being discussed in this country except the self-government issue, so that is back on the back burner.”

He said he is disappointed that the new Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) administration in Tobago has not made the issue a priority. “They have been in office five months, and we are not hearing anything about self-government, and this is why One Tobago Voice will continue to raise it.”

Quoting a recent Newsday article titled Al-Rawi: Local-government reform to mirror THA structure, Charles said, “The PNM government have been trying to bring the level of the assembly in Tobago sown to the level of local government. Because of the fact that they have not succeeded in doing that, they are now trying to enhance the level of the local government bodies in Trinidad to that of the Tobago House of Assembly.”

The implications of this, he said, does not bode well for Tobagonians.

“What they are attempting to do is to deny the people of Tobago the right to determine how Tobago is governed and they want to make sure that the government policy that they make in Trinidad will be implemented in Tobago, whether they are controlled to our wishes or not, similar to what is going to be done by the municipal corporations in Trinidad.”

He added: “That is the crucial issue, or else, Tobago, you are going to lose your power, you are going to lose your autonomy, you are going to lose your authority and you are going to be here carrying out the dictates of people and government and institutions in Trinidad.”

He said he agreed with giving the municipal corporations their power, but “you cannot bring down the level of the administration in Tobago. In fact, the nation is Trinidad and Tobago – two islands.”

Two pieces of legislation – the Tobago Self-Government Bill and the Tobago Island Administration Bill – were debated in the House of Representatives on June 28 and 29, 2021. The debate reached the committee stage. The motion called for the House to adopt the JSC’s report on the bills, which requires a three-fifths majority for passage.

The Opposition walked out of Parliament after the Speaker granted Dr Rowley an extension of speaking time during the debate of the bill. The Opposition and PDP have claimed the autonomy bill does not represent the wishes of Tobagonians.