Monday, January 22, 2018

Skin-teeth exchange belies Tobago-Trinidad realities


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With the end of Tobago House of Assembly January 21 election hostilities, followed by the calming winds of the Carnival in both islands, normality has resumed. The prominent sign of this has been Friday's apparently businesslike talks between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Chief Secretary Orville London.

Reporting to the media on the meeting, also attended by Finance Minister Larry Howai and Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal, Mr London emphasised the positive. The "painful episodes" from the campaign were in the past, he said, looking forward to the effect of healing, even though that could more appropriately apply to the side of the People's Partnership whose TOP affiliate had been electorally wiped out.

The Chief Secretary was impressed by the atmospherics of the meeting and the "changed postures" that marked a difference from pre-election dispositions. But, obviously, grounds for dissatisfaction with the Scarborough-Port of Spain constitutional and administrative arrangements will not so easily be removed.

Reforms toward self-government top the list of unresolved issues. Mr London also mentioned the reduction of THA-chosen representatives on state boards, and the implications of Caribbean Airlines' efforts to defend its Tobago tourism market share.

The good news is that the THA chief actually got to meet the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, and the Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives. He is encouraged to think he may have another such encounter before long.

The not so good news is that last Friday's exchange of skin-teeth may only defer recognition of the hard-nosed reality that the meaning of and the fall-out from Tobago's emphatic expression of choice remain to be clarified.

In a five-part Express series, Reginald Dumas, prominent public affairs analyst, has offered assessments of where the January 21 electoral result has left both Tobago and Trinidad. It appears from Mr Dumas' and other readings, that the only question definitively settled is who will run the THA for the next five years.

According to him, Tobagonians voted more against what they saw in the TOP-People's Partnership combination, and less for the ruling PNM administration in Scarborough. In office for more than a decade, Mr London's THA is identified with a record of achievement that is decidedly less than impressive in the Tobagonian eyes that matter.  

In other ways, too, both national formations—the People's Partnership and the PNM—came out damaged from the Tobago elections. The Partnership, having gambled its all in favour of the TOP, suffered a humiliating rebuff. The PNM will have taken away from the Tobago encounter the obligation to contend, in Trinidad, against the image of anti-Indian race baiting.