Trinidad and Tobago Government, Legal System and Economy
and Tobago is a former British colony. It became independent in 1962 and adopted a republican Constitution in 1976 replacing the British Monarch with a President elected by Parliament as the country’s Head of State. The general direction and control of the Government rests with the Cabinet, led by a Prime Minister who is answerable to Parliament.
Parliament serves as the legislative arm of government and consists of two chambers known as the Senate and the House of Representatives. For any piece of legislation to come into effect as law it must receive a majority vote of approval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and be assented to by the President. Certain pieces of legislation, for instance those which deprive persons of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, must expressly declare its inconsistency and achieve votes of a special majority in both chambers before they can come into force.
Democratic elections for the 41 members of the House of Representatives must be held at least every five years. Elections may be called earlier by the President at the request of the Prime Minister or after a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives. The Senate’s 31 members are appointed by the President: 16 on the advice of the Prime Minister, 6 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 9 independents appointed by the President (in his sole discretion) from among outstanding members of the community. There is a system of local government: elected councils administer the nine regional, two city, and three borough corporations in Trinidad. Since 1980 the Tobago House of Assembly has governed Tobago with limited responsibility for local matters.
The law of Trinidad and Tobago is based upon the common law of England and statutes of general application in force in England in 1848 as modified by subsequent local legislation. Local legislation is often derived from or based on English (and in recent times other Commonwealth States mainly Canada) statutes. The final Court of Appeal in respect of any civil and criminal litigation is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. The principles derived from the decisions of the courts of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries particularly other Commonwealth Caribbean Islands, Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand, though not strictly binding, are regarded as persuasive by the local courts where relevant to local cases.
The country’s judiciary is made up of a three tier system of courts, the first being the High Court, the second being the Court of Appeal and the highest court being the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Member states of the Caribbean Community (“CARICOM”) selected Trinidad and Tobago as the headquarters site for the new Caribbean Court of Justice (“CCJ”), which is intended eventually to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final appellate Court of Trinidad and Tobago and for all CARICOM states. The CCJ heard its first case in August 2005. Despite having its seat in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago has not passed the domestic legislation that is required to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final appellate court.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, thanks to its large reserves of oil and gas. Although Trinidad and Tobago’s economy consists of many different industries the exploitation of hydrocarbons is by far the most dominant.
Trinidad and Tobago has a well-educated society and a stable political climate. The government has attracted foreign investment (with varying degrees of success), particularly into the energy sector, since the late 1980s. The Government now places substantial importance on projects that increase local content and participation. The benefits of macroeconomic stability and proximity to the United States market have been complemented by modernization of laws governing corporate activity, substantial liberalization of the trade regime and fiscal incentives, including import duty exemptions.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the world’s largest exporters of ammonia and methanol and has multiple plants. The country has one LNG plant employing 4 trains run by 3 separate Atlantic LNG entities. Each train is supported by a consortium of international upstream investors with the State owned National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (“NGC”) also having an equity stake in at least two (2) of the trains. In addition, Trinidad and Tobago has ammonia and methanol plants, a urea plant and iron and steel plants. Trinidad and Tobago also supplies manufactured goods to the Caribbean region and beyond and is the regional financial centre. Trinidad’s tourism season primarily revolves around its world renowned carnival which takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday; but in the last decade it has also become a very popular eco-tourism destination. Tobago’s economy is primarily tourism driven and offers the classic Caribbean attraction namely crystal blue waters and pristine white sand beaches.
Trinidad and Tobago is the Caribbean’s largest producer of oil and gas and most of the country’s investments have been in the energy sector, which makes up the bulk of its exports. Its hydrocarbon resources have enabled Trinidad and Tobago to become the Caribbean’s most industrialized nation. The country has one oil refinery located at Pointe-a-Pierre which is operated by Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (“Petrotrin”) which is state owned. Over the years considerable sums of money have been spent and continue to be spent in upgrading this facility. Petrotrin is also active in upstream exploration and production.
NGC was established in 1975 and acts as the sole buyer, transporter and distributor of natural gas in Trinidad and Tobago. A sizeable gas-based industry has developed in Trinidad and Tobago, much of which is centered on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate on the west coast of Trinidad.
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