Tuesday, February 20, 2018

After January 21, 2013


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Part V - Conclusion

One of the negatives that has dogged Ashworth Jack in the last little while has been his inability to give a credible explanation of the sources of the monies, material, etc. used to construct his new house in Tobago.

On January 19 the Express said it had obtained "documents revealing that UNC financier Super Industrial Services (SIS) provided both material and labour to help build (the) house..." An earlier Express article (January 6) stated that "SIS...is footing some of the TOP's bills for its electioneering process." So Jack I make no allegation may have benefited in two important ways from the generosity of one company.

Generosity or political investment? Have free lunches, especially in politics, ever been available? If the Express articles have any validity (I've seen no denial from either Jack or SIS), we may have an interesting case before us.

On the campaign trail recently, reference was made to land in east Tobago in which Jack was said to have an interest. The land in question is an undeveloped, privately-owned 82-acre estate in Louis d'Or called Indian Point. (It's in Hilton Sandy's constituency, by the way. Ship reach.)

In February last year a government-appointed committee prepared land use analyses of four estates, Indian Point among them, being considered for the location of the proposed Tobago integrated campus of the UWI, UTT and COSTAATT. It found everything wrong with Indian Point tiring travel to and from the area, inadequate housing stock in the vicinity, absence of utilities (water, telephones, electricity), difficult topography, geological problems, etc. It strongly recommended another site in west Tobago.

I favour a campus in east Tobago if only as a boost to that region's economy (though I recognise there are good reasons for the west). My choice, however, is the Kendal estate, just outside Roxborough, and I have volunteered my opinion to the relevant minister. For reasons unclear to me, the committee did not look at Kendal, which the State already owns (though some claim differently).

I have no evidence that Jack is a part of the Indian Point affair; he will have to tell us. Out of an abundance of concern for his reputation, however, he may want to try to get correct and thorough answers to the following questions, and share those answers with us. Is it true that in December 2011 a company called Fortune Real Estate Ltd. purchased Indian Point from Jade Developments Ltd (JDL) for twelve million dollars? Was that a fair price for such land? Who owns Fortune and JDL?

Are there any business and/or other links between Fortune and SIS? Is it being proposed that the government purchase Indian Point from Fortune despite the findings and recommendations of its own technical committee? If so, why and at what premium? Who stands to benefit? Would that be an efficient and effective use of taxpayers' money? Especially in the light of the land use analysis, what might be the likely cost (again, to taxpayers) of preparing Indian Point, after purchase, for utilisation as a campus? Who might be involved in this preparation?

This THA election was never going to be your average quadrennial political joust. It was always going to be a national referendum: too much was at stake for both the People's Partnership and the PNM, especially the latter. The margin of the PNM win surprised everyone, including the PNM. My own assessment is that the election was decided in the last few days.

The PNM had cleverly stressed that the contest was between itself and the PP, not between itself and the TOP, which it dismissed as a People's Partnership, indeed UNC, stalking horse. Nonetheless, it played down Keith Rowley's role and enhanced Orville London's; the national leader could not be seen as upstaging the island satrap. Incredibly, the TOP/People's Partnership did exactly the opposite. It elevated the Prime Minister above Jack (about whom there were already doubts), thus causing alarm and affront to the Tobago sense of self and playing effortlessly into the clutches of the PNM.

The Prime Minister then sought, bewilderingly, to persuade voters that, yes, the election was indeed a referendum, but on Tobago internal self-government. No one could take that seriously.

A last-minute attempt to burnish Jack's image backfired. The night before the election I was stunned to see a tv ad in which he was bracketed with Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It was for me the final proof that his mishandlers had abandoned reality. They had gone over the top, and undermined the TOP.

In the end, it wasn't so much a win for the PNM (bolstered by proclaimed non-PNMites bent on hi-Jack) as a loss for the TOP/People's Partnership; once more, we voted against. Much of Tobago has been unimpressed over time by the London fare, but the alternative menu was, for a number of reasons (not only race), unappetising to the Tobago palate. That of course has national implications for the People's Partnership.

In truth, all the parties have to sit and introspect. The PP in particular has had its bubble well and truly pricked. Jack's value to his party and to the coalition has sharply diminished. He hasn't only been drubbed, he is now a figure of fun for calypsonian and comedian alike. He may soon have only one viable road to walk.

As for the PNM, the race issue isn't going to disappear, and will likely damage the party in the forthcoming local government elections. Mixing religion and race, Sat Maharaj will continue to complain about the London administration, and Sandy's presence in the THA Executive Council will be a further irritant. For his part, London might wish to consider working towards a legacy of sound developmental action.

Internal self-government is now further delayed, unfortunately. The Tobago nation is alive, if not as well as it could and should be.

* Reginald Dumas is a former

ambassador and former head of the Public Service