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Same khaki pants after Monday

By Winford James

I haven't been able to study the poll that predicted that the PNM will win the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections 11 to one on Monday coming, so I cannot comment on the validity of the analysis that yielded the prediction. Nor am I interested to do so, except to say that polls are the best predictive tool I know of in this regard.

A party will most likely win the elections in a clear-cut way and will set about governing Tobago for the next four years, but it will do so within the same constitutional framework we have been accustomed to since 1996. The proposed constitutional amendment, if it succeeds – which is quite unlikely – will make no material difference.

Did I say that the winning party will govern Tobago for the next four years? That's clearly not true. No Tobago party, post-union more than a century and a quarter ago, has really governed Tobago. Not Robinson's DAC/NAR and not Williams's (Tobago) PNM. And no Tobagonian commissioner or warden or chairman or chief secretary has really governed Tobago within the union. Not Bruce or Robinson or Davidson or Denoon or Charles or London.

There have been administrative and political governance gains over the years, but essentially it has been government by a Trinidadian cabinet that determines financial allocations and overall spending for recurrent expenditure and development.

Currently, we have a THA run by an executive council of secretaries and assistant secretaries, managing annual budgets whose sums are limited by cabinet discretion.

The THA runs the island in accordance with a list of areas of responsibility that excludes critical ones like air and sea transportation, tertiary education, security, ports and wharves, law making, and maritime resources. And some of the areas on the list – like revenue collection, town and country planning, customs and excise, statistics and information, and co-operatives – are practically constrained by overarching control from Trinidad.

The THA manages funds allocated by cabinet in areas of responsibility dictated by cabinet. Put another way, Trinidadians determine how much of the national budget Tobagonians will get and make decisions for us in critical areas of development.

To get unpalatably specific, Trinidadians make laws for us; control all our marine resources (oil and gas); control the air and sea-bridges; prevent us from building tertiary education plant; determine our security measures; give us either a portion of the budget that we had to take them to court for or a portion they decide we must have; decide how and when our ports and wharves should be developed; release critical statistical information on the island's economy at their pleasure; limit the amounts we can borrow.

Now tell me if you can be said to be governing yourself if somebody is doing these things to you and for you.

The proposed constitution amendment is the latest show of Trinidadian control. They tell us, mere months after giving us a share of the budget more or less at the minimum legal percentage of 4.03, that they will give us at least 6.09 when the amendment succeeds and, overbearingly, enshrine it in the Constitution to boot.

They tell us we can make our own laws but they stick in a clause that allows them to override those laws when they feel like it. They dismiss a constitution reform proposal that emerged out of wide discussion by and among Tobagonians and facilely replace it with one cooked up by an alliance of themselves and a few Tobagonians.

In brief, they are giving Tobagonians what they determine we should have. This bunch of Trinidadians is following reflexively in the footsteps of their predecessors and, true to form, they do not – perhaps cannot – see the preposterousness and boldfacedness of their approach. The proposed amendment can therefore not satisfy Tobagonians.

So you can better appreciate why Kamla's gifts won't change the status quo after the elections on Monday. It go be the same khaki pants. No matter who wins.

Let me summarise the matter in the words of one of my illustrious brethren:

"The key application is that Tobagonians have the right to ensure that any decision about Tobago within the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago suits their fancy.

"Everything hinges on the right of Tobagonians to visibly and decisively participate in whatever is the matter that affects their resources. If Tobagonians find that their resources are being taken away by the State, to any extent whatsoever, and further if they find their right to equal status is not being accepted, then they also have the additional right to full sovereignty over Tobago and its resources.

"This is a dangerous issue for Trinidad at this time. It can be settled best by a democratic federal structure, including one that is properly constructed to give Tobago equal status and voice. Good sense ought to prevail in Trinidad before it is too late."

A decision that suits our fancy. Our right to participate decisively in any matter that affects our resources. An additional right to full sovereignty if equal status is denied.

And yes, a democratic federal structure in which Tobago has equal status and voice.

What is there about this to deny?

• Winford James is a uwi lecturer and a political analyst.

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