Monday, December 18, 2017

Tobago must chart its own way forward


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Now that the election is over, there will be lots of time for introspection, retrospection and navel-gazing. The salient point to note is how badly the Prime Minister and her advisers misjudged the intellectual capacity of Tobagonians. Not only that, but in so doing, she exposed the soft underbelly of Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack.

It was clear to Tobagonians that Jack lacked the capacity to manage the affairs of Tobago. After all, how could he possibly have thought Tobagonians would have bought into the whole "pumpkin" argument? How could he possibly have thought they would buy into the shifting arguments regarding the mansion on the hill?

Tobagonians are smart, and this is not calculus but basic arithmetic. You simply don't go from zero to a hundred in two years unless you have a really big engine. Well, there is always help from the usual suspects.

The Prime Minister gambled and lost. Indeed, she has spent an inordinate amount of political capital, and now, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Chief Secretary Orville London are holding that debt. The interesting dichotomy—or is there one—Orville, being the People's National Movement (PNM) deputy chairman, may subordinate some of that debt to the PNM in Trinidad. If he does (the choice is clear), then watch out… the local government election is next.

I am a foreign-based Tobagonian but I visit about six times a year, so I may argue home is where my heart is. The issues here are simple. Tobagonians have always wanted self-determination in a form that demonstrates respect and equality with Trinidad, nothing more, nothing less.

The technocrats will have to craft the model, not in isolation but with extensive consultation among Tobago and Trinidad people. It has to be a prenuptial agreement that both sides can sign, knowing fully well what they are getting in to.

The poor cousin of a small nation state where 60 per cent of the people are employed by the THA is not sustainable over time without a defined revenue base. Depending on Trinidad for a handout every year, particularly in light of the vast petro-carbon riches off the coast of Tobago, is not consistent with our thinking. It simply is not cricket.

The Prime Minister must meet with the Chief Secretary as a matter of urgency. She must build a relationship with Orville London, so we can build a future based on education, industry, security, health care, and, yes, good governance for the people of Tobago and Trinidad. The nation deserves it. Otherwise, the country will not move forward, and the People's Partnership would have been a failed experiment.

When the celebration is over, the Chief Secretary will realise governing without an opposition can be a bitter-sweet pill. It will require statesmanship and a clear vision. It's a challenge he must face by empowering Tobagonians and seeking wise counsel.

Tobago, yes, a proud and distinctive people. Welcome to the new normal, well, at least for the next four years.

John King

via e-mail