Monday, February 19, 2018

Quantifying the collapse

THE Government could hardly have done a better job of damaging Tobago's economy if it had set out to do so.

At the peak of its tourism high season, passenger sea transport to and from Tobago has collapsed from a combined daily maximum of 3,600 passengers travelling both ways two times a day on the T&T Express and T&T Spirit, to a maximum daily of 130 passengers on the cargo vessel, Cabo Star.

This is Tobago's reality today following the withdrawal of the T&T Express from service one week ago to join the T&T Spirit which has been languishing on dry dock since June last year.

Even if the T&T Express returns to the route tomorrow, as is now being promised, the damage cannot be undone.

With Tobago's 2017-2018 tourism high season already half gone, initial revenue projections for the island are very unlikely to be met.

It is hard to imagine any universe in which a government could be bold enough to boast of performance while presiding over such a disaster. The public interest demands a credible impact assessment of the collapse of the seabridge on Tobago, specifically, and Trinidad and Tobago, in general.

Such an assessment is vital to understanding the full scale of the disaster that has flowed from the bungled management of the sea-bridge. It is also important to redressing this horrific wrong that has been done to the people and economy of our two islands, but especially to Tobago.

While the Tobago Division of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce has been vocal and articulate on the impact to its members, a major casualty will be those small operators in the informal business sector that trade as individuals. Justice demands that those whose lives and businesses have been negatively affected should demand and receive compensation in one form or other. It also demands that those responsible be held accountable — a position routinely endorsed by political parties in opposition until they get into government.

The economic impact of the dysfunctional seabridge will be particularly severe in this run-up to the tourism high season of Carnival which drives foreign, diasporic and domestic visits to the island.

This is the period when Tobago gets its Carnival boost from foreign and diasporic tourists who look to diversify their experience with a trip to the sister isle's alternative of a green, clean and serene scene.

An even bigger market, however, is the exodus of Trinidadians to Tobago, wishing to escape the freneticism of Carnival at home.

At the very least, the trickle-down effect needs to be quantified and compensated for. What is now needed is a comprehensive compilation of businesses, individuals and communities that have been affected in order to determine how many businesses have closed down, how many jobs have been lost since the Galicia fiasco last April, how many lives have been dislocated and disrupted, and how all of these have affected communities.

The seabridge collapse goes beyond the boundary of transport to the heart of society and the economy.