Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath –
UWI political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath and attorney Martin George offered different views on whether or not the resignation of Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and 14 other executive members of the Assembly from the Progressive Democratic Patriots meant the THA has collapsed or that fresh THA elections should be called.
While there is nothing legally or constitutionally to prevent Augustine and the other executives from remaining in office until their term of office expires in 2025, Ragoonath said this development raises questions about the stability of the PDP and opens the possibility of Augustine launching a new political entity which could have different political aspirations to the PDP.
Ragoonath said this is not a governance crisis in Tobago as the THA Act does not recognise the act of politicians crossing the floor.
“As such, members (of the THA) who have been elected, are there for the duration of the term.”
Ragoonath said, “There is no demand or any need for anybody to resign from the THA. There is no need for any by-elections or anything like that..”
The THA continues to function because it has a chief secretary, deputy chief secretary and other executives who are still in place.
Ragoonath viewed the resignations as a double-edged sword, given the PDP’s 14-1 landslide victory over the PNM in the December 6, 2021 THA election.
“On the one side, you have the fact of the matter is that some people may have voted for PDP whereas there’s that other notion that some people would have voted for the candidate.”
Ragoonath said it is difficult to differentiate who voted for the candidate as opposed to who voted for the party.
“Candidates campaign on their own merit. Not necessarily on behalf of the party.”
Against this background, Ragoonath said, “The law takes precedence and the law simply says these people elected us. Hence they have to hold their seats until their desired term (of office) is achieved.”
He added it was the choice of Augustine or any of his colleagues to resign from the THA or not.
George was uncertain whether Augustine and his colleagues can remain as THA members, having resigned from the PDP.
“Only a judicial interpretation and a ruling on this matter will put this to rest at this time, once and for all.”
George said the issue for Augustine and his colleagues was whether “they have any legal standing to continue in office, given that they are no longer members of the party which they came into office with.”
Attorney Martin George –
He said there is “no corresponding provision to Section 49 of the Constitution.”
That section allows for a member of the House to vacate their seat, if he or she resigns from the party on whose ticket they got elected on or are expelled from that party.
The THA Act does not cater for similar situations in the Assembly.
But he added, “ The only thing that one is left to consider now, is the effect of section 92 of the standing orders of the THA.”
Section 92 states, “In any matter herein not provided for, resort shall be had, to the usage and practice of the House of Representatives of TT, which shall be followed as far as the same may be applicable to this Assembly and not inconsistent with these standing orders nor with the practice of the Assembly.”
George added the section also states, “In cases of doubt, the standing orders of the Assembly shall be interpreted in light of the relevant usage and practices of the House of Representatives.”
He said he would not be surprised if there was a legal challenge towards Augustine and his colleagues remaining as THA members.