A dead-end road for THA to avoid
Outpourings and actions, called forth by the extended election season of the Tobago House of Assembly, can hardly fail to touch and even engulf Trinidad. The May 2010 election of the People's Partnership, over the dead body of the PNM administration, immediately promised no-love-lost relations with the PNM-controlled THA.
Relations have since deteriorated. The THA Budget presentation yesterday came over as a platform for boosterism of that administration's achievements and aspirations and for equally unrestrained demonisation of the People's Partnership track record and supposed ambitions.
Provocations have come from both sides. Last month, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar endorsed Partnership colleague Ashworth Jack for Chief Secretary in the coming THA elections, and even assigned resources to help his campaign. The 2012-2013 Budget read by Finance Secretary Anselm London built upon his statement one year ago, claiming that not just the economy but also the very identity of Tobago are under mortal threat from Trinidad.
If the June 2011 THA Budget was a declaration of war, yesterday's marked a throwing down of the gauntlet amid a rolling thunder of dark threats. Dr London invoked "certain events in our political history…that threatened to rip the very fabric of the country apart''. He also warned T&T against becoming "another theatre (of) political, social, civil and even sectarian upheavals''.
Such references sound like a far stretch on an occasion for the presentation of Tobago's accounts and discussion of the island's economic management. But Dr London delivered a message of Tobago's superior economic performance to Trinidad's, and also of the alleged effects of various People's Partnership administration deadly sins of commission and omission.
The Budget reported a dizzying array of pump-priming expenditures through which Dr London claimed to have saved Tobago from "massive economic downturn''. He cited the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex as one prestige THA project opened this month. Other "signature'' projects —the Scarborough Library and the Shaw Park Complex —formerly promised for December 2011 and early 2012, are being postponed to some time in 2013.
THA administration, then, despite claims for its superiority, reflects implementation shortcomings immediately familiar to T&T Government watchers. Still, the Finance Secretary demands a larger share of the national budget, and the exclusive right to income prospectively derived from oil and gas in waters he unilaterally asserts to lie within a Tobago economic zone.
Much Budget time was devoted to the rival projects for internal self-government put out by the T&T government and the THA. The London THA identifies its own proposals as blessed by the people of Tobago. It denounces the Green Paper as part of a wider T&T government move to subjugate Tobagonians. This is a dangerously divisive, dead-end, road down which to go. For to identify the THA with Tobagonians, in the context of what looks and sounds like an attack on Trinidad, could be to invite identification of the T&T government with just Trinidadians.
Neither proposition is either valid or desirable.