Three hours are what Trinidad and Tobago has come to expect for a Finance Minister's annual Budget delivery in the House of Representatives. A lesson learned last week is that less should not be expected of the Finance Secretary in the Tobago House of Assembly.
In the literal capacity of a "stranger" inside the Assembly chamber, I learned that Tobago is demanding equal time. Tobago, at least official Tobago, is demanding. Period.
Over those hours, and without faltering, Anselm L London read his text, comprising more muscular prose than ever heard from his opposite numbers in Port of Spain. Much of it sounded like lists of things done and things to do, things both expansively large and unbelievably small. My attention strayed.
A stranger's eyes appraised the stage setting of the THA chamber in which Dr London pronounced his soliloquy. The cast of sable-suited Assembly members, councillors and assorted officials seemed somehow huddled around a horseshoe table overlooked by "Madam Presiding Officer". Inside this sanctum of Scarborough officialdom, I looked for physical expression of what Dr London called "a Tobago that has come of age".
Unsure what the design and appointments said of such a Tobago, I noted the gravitas imparted by the dark, lacquered wood of the horseshoe table, matching the cordovan/burgundy of the chairs and carpet, and the heavy wooden desk of the presiding officer. Rising on eight stout pillars behind her station, a wooden structure with gabled roof equally bespoke the solidity of governing tradition.
Along the chamber's three sides overlooking the streets, accordion windows in dark-stained wood curtained off the view. Sober tones, preserving the sedate air of governmental deliberations, seemed suitably in order.
But then, the vaulted ceiling done in pastel colours described a pattern of lilac rectangles framed in green and white, matching the wall design on the "minority", or opposition, side of the chamber. Eight bowl-shaped lamps with bulbs simulating oil wicks, which hung at intervals from the ceiling, enhanced the feel of a trendy-tropical restaurant or boutique, challenging the dignity and solemn grandeur of a Tobago state house.
Maybe what I saw as a conflict in styles was really a work in progress. If so, a THA chamber redo failed to gain mention in Dr London's extensive listings of prestige and other projects planned or underway. For one thing, the renovation managed to exclude soundproofing: traffic noise and car alarms intruded incongruously upon the Finance Secretary's discourse on his administration's achievements and ambitions.
Still, Dr London's accounting of "steel and concrete achievements" quickened my interest in eyeballing the shiny face of Tobago. It's an aspect hardly noticed by Trinidadians who throng the Crown Point, Store Bay, and Pigeon Point areas, transposing to there a feel of Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, or the Western Main Road, St James.
More and more, however, the built environment is competing for attention against the fabled natural environment. I had heard it called a troubled project, and knew it was way overdue and over budget, but the stopping power of the hilltop high-rise structure going up on the Milford Road made me pull aside and park.
The massive concrete slab thrusting six storeys high is one of two, housing access ramps, an engineer told me. He wasn't authorised to talk, and I wasn't authorised to enter the site. So he daubed in the dust of his SUV rear fender a sketch showing the Heritage and Culture pavilions and the stage and seating areas of the Shaw Park Cultural Complex.
London had given the cost as $360 million for this "signature architectural achievement" which, when complete in 2013, will seat 5,000. The THA must assume the island will find the impresarios to attract to Shaw Park three times as many patrons as NAPA in Port of Spain can accommodate.
"We make no apology for thinking big," Dr London had said in his June 2011 budget. Indeed, the active gearing up for a Tobago energy industry is certain to make the Shaw Park Complex look small. My own self-conducted tour of the Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park enabled the eye-opening prospect of a mini-Point Lisas specialising in eco-friendly production methods.
An NGC plant under construction will process natural gas piped from BHP Billiton's Angostura field 54 kilometres away off Matura. This gas will drive T&TEC generators, fuel the Cove Park industries, and fill the pipelines headed for Barbados and islands farther north.
Just outside the Cove Park, gas in another pipeline, gas from Centrica's Block 22 north of Tobago, is due to make landing, and to be processed by a separate facility, into exportable CNG or LNG.
Tranquil, tourist-dependent, Tobago is loudly into gas. Or almost there.
What's already in place, and abundantly, is the attitude to go with it. The attitude gets expression in official declarations that only "born and bred Tobagonians" may claim entitlement to Tobago land or other bounty.
Anybody failing to meet that high bar of "born and bred" is regarded by official Tobago as not only a stranger, but also an interloper, a would-be recoloniser, and a purveyor of "disrespect".
Official insistence on "born and bred" rules out the possibility of any modern-day, politically correct Robinson Crusoe. With energy prosperity on the horizon, welcome to Tobago's version of "We time now".
So much for now.