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Less haste on Tobago

There are no issues more core to the integrity of the unitary state of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago than the terms of association between the islands of this republic. It is therefore a great pity that the Government has chosen the hectic and pugilistic period of an election campaign for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to take legislation to Parliament that proposes to alter this fundamental relationship.

It is not enough whether this legislation is in the interest of Tobago or Trinidad or Trinidad and Tobago. What matters is that an issue of such fundamental importance is undertaken seriously, soberly and with the greatest respect for the interest and involvement of the people of both islands so that it has the best chance of success after implementation.

The issue of more meaningful internal self-government for Tobago is one that this newspaper has supported for decades as indeed we have supported greater decentralisation of Local Government in this country. In the 1970s, we lent our voice to the campaign for greater autonomy that led, eventually, to the creation of the Tobago House of Assembly which, imperfect as it was then, was a crucial step in the right direction.

Notwithstanding occasional tinkering with the THA Act, the relationship between the islands continues to be plagued by acrimony with Tobago bristling under what it considers to be Trinidad's hegemony in a relationship of inequality between partners. This has continued to fuel the demand for greater autonomy with some Tobagonians going so far as to promote the case for secession. Predictably, Tobago's campaign for greater self-government has rubbed some Trinidadians the wrong way, convinced as some are, that Tobago gets a disproportionate share of the national revenue.

These are extreme positions along a spectrum relationship that could only be improved by greater understanding among all. In approaching the next round of constitutional amendments to give Tobago greater control over decision-making in its own affairs and a greater share of the combined national patrimony, the environment needs to be receptive to dialogue and the facts.

It is doubtful how useful a parliamentary debate on such a seminal issue could be in the heat of an election campaign when conditions are the least propitious for dialogue and when rival parties have the most to gain by sharpening the lines that divide them.

With two weeks to go before the January 21 THA election, the people of Tobago, as well as the rest of us, would be better served by a campaign in which the parties that are competing for the vote outline their programmes and policies for the next term.

This is not a time for cutting corners and rushing debates. We have been through enough such episodes to know that political expediency can be a short cut to failure, at best, and disaster at worst.

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