Friday, February 23, 2018

Smart London moves on Tobago self-govt

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Mark Fraser

 It is entirely in order, if somewhat untimely, that the discussion on Tobago self-government should find a venue and draw participation in Trinidad. It’s in order, because Tobago and Trinidad count as family members, as close as “sister islands”, inside a single republic. 

Last weekend’s talks at The UWI, St Augustine, may also be regarded as untimely, since Trinidad and, no doubt, Tobago are heatedly engaged in discussions on reform of the republican constitution. Reform contestations, triggered by the Government’s moves to enact selected amendments, have excluded Tobago self-government.

The debates taking place in the Parliament, and spilling out into the streets, contain potential to overshadow all else. Still, T&T citizens are obliged to retain a lively awareness of the long-standing questions of Tobago self-government. That the UWI consultation, the first held in Trinidad, followed 12 such exercises in Tobago, signifies the level and the extent of focus of the concerns under the rubric of self-government.

Such concerns have enjoyed a far higher profile in Tobago. It has taken Tobagonian leaders to cause Trinidad-based citizens, and institutions of the unitary state, to pay attention. 

Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London identified as one self-government milestone a January 14, 1977 motion by the late Arthur NR Robinson, then a Tobago MP. Assessing advancement in that “four-decade journey”, Mr London concluded: “The objectives are not being achieved.”

Or not entirely, and certainly not in a time-frame satisfactory to Tobagonian expectations. As Mr London conceded, “We have made some progress but in reality…self-government for Tobago has not been achieved.”

 In its relations with the T&T state, Tobago wants and needs a better deal. On this theme, all parties play to the gallery as deemed advantageous to themselves. 

During the January 2013 THA election campaign, both the People’s Partnership affiliate, the TOP, and the PNM in Tobago were united in the championship of a broadly common objective of more self-government.  

To this end, the People’s Partnership administration even promoted a legislative draft. Mr London’s PNM THA administration made much of the result of consultations it had promoted across the island.

History teaches that the London PNM won the election, but has so far lost the self-government prize. The ruling administration, its TOP affiliate having been electorally devastated, promptly lost interest in self-government. 

Undaunted, Mr London continued to rally the otherwise disparate Tobago forces toward a single self-government platform. It is sadly significant, however, that TOP leader Ashworth Jack has kept a disdainful distance from that all-Tobago approach. 

 Last weekend’s consultation thus represents an admirably brave thrust by Mr London to gain in Trinidad decisive influence, including public support, for self-government. It is equally a smart recognition that he cannot advance Tobago’s self-government cause without simultaneously engaging public opinion in Trinidad.