THA members safe to cross floor

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PDP political leader Watson Duke at the party’s Trinidad office in Barataria on April 1. Duke has since resigned as THA deputy chief secretary. File photo/Angelo Marcelle

ANY elected member of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) may safely leave his/her political party without having to vacate their seat, under the crossing of the floor provision added to the TT Constitution which curbs elected members of the House of Representatives, a glance at the laws of TT revealed.

This is poignant now, given the tit-for-tat between the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) leader Watson Duke and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) leader Farley Augustine, in which Duke axed Augustine as PDP deputy head while in turn himself stepping down as THA deputy chief secretary.

Duke has vowed not to leave the PDP saying he had founded it, even as he alleged Augustine was planning to form his own party.

A reading of the laws suggest neither man’s THA seat is threatened by whatever becomes of their respective party alignment.

In a provision inserted in 1978, the TT Constitution says in section 49(2) that an MP in the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in any one of five circumstances, the last of which refers to circumstances of crossing the floor.

Section 49(2)(e) says an MP shall vacate his seat where, “having been a candidate of a party and elected to the House, he resigns from or is expelled by that party.”

The Tobago House of Assembly Act lists the circumstances under which the seat of a THA assemblyman becomes vacant, but this does not include changing his party. The THA Act in section 19 says his seat becomes vacant where he dies, resigns, is continuously absent without leave for 90 days or three sittings, ceases to qualify as an assemblyman or becomes disqualified under section 15. He is only qualified if he is a citizen of TT, qualified as an elector and resides in Tobago. He is disqualified if bankrupt, mentally ill, under sentence of death, disqualified under the Representation of the People Act (sections 31 and 32), holds an office in the THA, or is a member of the House of Representatives, Senate or a municipal/regional corporation.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine at the launch of the PDP Trinidad arm, Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain on May 1. PDP political leader has since removed Farley and two others as deputy leaders. File photo/Jeff K Mayers

The Representation of the People Act in section 31 debars the Chief Election Officer, Deputy or Assistant Chief Election Officers, and any returning officer.

This Act in section 32 bans membership of the THA (and House of Representatives and municipal corporations) for individuals who head certain named public bodies, plus other named public officials, and members of the Defence Force (listed in the second schedule.)

Those disqualified are chairmen of the Cocoa Rehabilitation Board (sic), Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board, Board of Film Censors, WASA, TTEC, Industrial Development Corporation (sic), National Housing Authority (sic), Port Authority, Public Transport Service Corporation, and Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund Committee. The RPA Act also blocked any member of the Agricultural Rent Board, Statutory Authorities’ Service Commission, Public Utilities Commission (sic), Rent Assessment Board, and a liquor licensing committee.

Newsday understands that several of these bodies no longer exist or have been replaced by other bodies.