Saturday, February 17, 2018

What's missing in Tobago campaign


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To an increasing degree, the sound and fury emanating from the campaign platforms of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections have gained national attention. High points have been identified with the historic leaders' live TV debate, and the continuing echoes of and responses to the race-talking PNM deputy Chief Secretary Hilton Sandy. Last weekend, it was the pollsters' turn to deliver putative soundings of popular feeling that could predict the outcome of next Monday's vote.

It has taken an Independent Senator, business executive and academic, however, fearlessly to call attention to a grievous deficiency of the Tobago campaign. In an op-ed contribution to yesterday's Express, Senator Rolph Balgobin cast a cold but sharp eye on the platform exchanges that have ill-served Tobagonians' need for informed discussion on matters most critical for the island's long-term well-being.

For sure, the basic question of internal self-government has received platform attention, agitated by reform legislation opportunistically tabled by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar short weeks before polling day. Those measures, for requiring amendments of the T&T Constitution, will need Opposition support for passage. Which support, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley has signalled, will not be forthcoming.

But as the leaders' debate last week revealed, much of the focus of the campaign is on who is more qualified, and somehow more trustworthy, than whom to take charge of the THA.

Meanwhile, the question of how Tobago is to become an economically self-sustaining entity is addressed, if at all, only indirectly. Will the terms of full, or fuller, internal self-government necessarily enable the island to attain economic viability?

This is the main line of attack pursued by Dr Balgobin. He did devote space to deploring the low intellectual level of the political debate. And he elaborately made the case for why the infamous Sandy "Calcutta ship" utterance amounts to statements so "ignorant" as to disqualify those mouthing them from "being anywhere near public funds, far less managing them".

Then the Senator pointed to the "elephant in the room" represented by the failure to deal with the fundamental matter of the Tobago economy.

It takes a truly independent Senator publicly to affirm that the Tobago economy is "unsuccessful, unproductive and uncompetitive". Yet it is difficult to argue otherwise.

With gas production and export in its future, and desired to be under its control, Tobago seems set to become energy-rich in a manner familiar to Trinidad, or so one version of that story goes. But Senator Balgobin raises the question of productivity and competitiveness, where right now Tobago is simply scoring low.

If not enough Tobagonians seem to be doing so, it is certainly in order for thoughtful and well-meaning Trinidadians to put their mouths in Tobago economic business. Thus, Dr Balgobin deplores the so far "misguided and distracted public conversation", and points to the need for focus on what is to be done to "turn the economic fate of Tobago around".

On this alone, the need is great for an informed debate not only among leaders, but indeed by all in Tobago, and in Trinidad.