Saturday, December 16, 2017

One year later, what has Tobago gained?

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Mark Fraser

 Weeks away from the first anniversary of the Tobago House of Assembly election sweep by the Orville London-led PNM, Tobagonians must be weighing the meaning and the outcome of that event. Trinidadian observers will inevitably also be engaged in updating an assessment of  the political and other viability of the unitary state, which depends upon maintenance of reasonably productive relations between Scarborough and Port of Spain.

Is Tobago better off, or otherwise, for having so emphatically chosen the THA leadership path it took last January? By electorally obliterating the Tobago Organisation of the People, Tobagonians made clear what they were against.

The vanquished TOP led by Ashworth Jack, uncritically supported by the ruling People’s Partnership, qualified as the option rejected. In the year since, the TOP has evidently achieved little by way of making itself appear more ready, in the eyes of Tobagonians,  than it had been one year ago to grasp the THA reins. 

The January 2013 election result reaffirmed the mixture as before effectively prescribed and dispensed by the London PNM. Mr London received an embarrassment of electoral riches. But his administration can hardly point to any advances toward the governmental and political goals it had espoused in the 2012-2013 campaign. 

Progress earlier registered to the end of (more) internal self-government has given way to the constitutional marking of time. One critical reason is the lack of interest in Mr London’s relevant concerns since shown by the People’s Partnership administration. 

A single positive sign showed in the apparently successful talks held on Friday with Mr London by National Security Minister Gary Griffith and other security heads. Tobago had figured in the troubling New Year spate of killings. It was a reminder, if any were needed, of the tourism-dependent island’s growing vulnerability to the murderous T&T image that is inescapably projected abroad.

Tourism may yet have picked up amid present severe winter season conditions in North America and Europe. The upturn is not, however, so convincing as to encourage optimism for sustained viability and growth in the tourism sector.

Meanwhile, other patterns have remained unchanged. Even as it complains about underfunding from the Port of Spain Treasury, the THA, notably burdened with  responsibility for vanity projects such as the Shaw Park complex, remains the dominant economic driver and source of employment in Tobago.

In other indicators, in the critical area of education, performance by Tobago students has continued to rate as dismal, by comparison with Trinidad counterparts. Mr Griffith’s apparent commitment to pay due attention to Tobago’s security is, in this regard, a promising change from a general pattern of reduced emphasis on the island’s concerns. One year later, Tobago must be hard put to recognise what gains have since accrued to its best interests.