Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tobago love for Baker


POOR STORAGE: Market vendor Kimberly Roach at the Scarborough Market, Tobago, is among those clamouring for better facilities. —Photos: KIM BOODRAM

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'DOING OUR BEST': Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack speaks to the Sunday Express on Main Street, Scarborough, last Wednesday.

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The Sunday Express continues its MP Monitor series today with a look at the performance of MP Dr Delmon Baker in his Tobago West


TYPICALLY, Members of Parliament are called on to fix roads, build community centres and find jobs for their constituents.

In Tobago, where people tend to be more self-sufficient than their counterparts in Trinidad, MPs are being called on to provide a vital source of income—tourists.

Where are the visitors?

This was the question last week around Tobago West, where a lack of tourists means leaner pockets for entire communities. Everyone feels the pinch when whole communities must operate on a tight budget.

At Store Bay, Pigeon Point and Crown Point, MP Dr Delmon Baker of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), who received mixed reviews from his constituents, is being called on to push harder for better advertising and more flights into the island.

Tour operators, food and clothing vendors, hoteliers, spa owners and restaurateurs say they have all experienced a decline even before the global recession became apparent.

Now, with predictions by experts that a turnaround may not be as soon as hoped, they are worried about being the last to catch up when things get better.

"We need to get the visitors here, things are very low right now for those who depend on tourists," said Michael Frank, who runs several glass-bottom boats in Store Bay.

Frank, a former president of a now-defunct association set up by the boat operators, said low-season is lower than ever in terms of visitor numbers.

"We do not see Tobago getting the kind of mileage in terms of marketing that other islands get," Frank complained, echoing a cry that has become familiar.

"Everybody knows Barbados, or Grenada, but why not Tobago? When I travel I see strategic advertising for these destinations, but in years, I have seen only one ad for Tobago. And even then, the marketing is 'sun and beach and sand'. What does that say? Nothing! Tobago has so much more to offer."

Vendors along the beaches and at ANR Robinson International Airport lamented that they have often had to throw away the goods for which they are famous—sugar cakes, bene balls (sesame seed cakes), toolum and chilli bibi—and now produce these goods in lesser amounts.

"We in a tricky state," said one vendor, Annette.

"One day you make plenty and none sell. One day you make a little bit and a whole heap of tourists come in. Like we can't win it this rounds."

Around Tobago West, many constituents did not know who their MP was or which constituency they resided in.

Love for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) was strong, however, and most people were able to name someone from the THA who they said they considered their representative.

"The THA takes care of us," said one parlour operator at Pigeon Point.

The THA, which has always been dominated by the People's National Movement (PNM), was dissolved last month to make way for its elections, for which the TOP, the electoral ruler, has high hopes.

Asked his thoughts on the THA election, set for some time in January 2013, the man repeated a phrase that would be heard often last Wednesday.

"We not going to bite the hand that feeds us," he said.

Others were willing to give Baker a chance.

"He is young and he is trying with what he has," said 43-year-old Sheldon Sharpe.

Still, there was some doubt among residents.

And among business owners, many said they were not political and had seen political parties "come and go".

"Tobago's needs to go beyond politics and I am yet to see a party that can grasp that," said one long-time hotelier. Baker was formerly a junior minister in the Ministry of Finance and was moved to the Ministry for Tobago Development earlier this year when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar shuffled her Cabinet.

A number of business owners said they had hoped Baker would be more pro-active in furthering business on the island.

Across town, vendors at the Scarborough market were not impressed by the performance of the TOP.

"When are we getting a proper market?," asked Kimberly Roach, of Castara.

"I started selling in this market over 20 years ago with my mother and nothing has changed. We need an enclosed market, with air-conditioning, so that our goods can survive. We need facilities that are easier to keep clean and more inviting for visitors."

Roach, who said she fixed the roof of her stall herself to keep the rain out, said a lot of goods are lost because of poor storage facilities.

Customer Julian James, 39, of Parlatuvier, agreed.

James said the people of Tobago were not interested in the "political games" frequently seen.

Not far from there, Che Groome, a 22-year-old public servant, raised concerns about vendors on the outskirts of the port, where an informal strip mall has taken shape.

"They are calling it a beautification effort, but people's livelihoods are at stake," Groome said.

"This will affect people who have not asked for handouts but who have tried to be self-sufficient."

The vendors were served with eviction notices by the THA's health services and they want their MP to intervene.

"There is no proper re-location plan in place so people will be losing their income," Groome said.

"Maybe a better option might be to create a more appealing vending area and allow the present vendors to return."

Other were less hopeful and resurrected a phrase that embodies the bitterness still felt by some on the sister isle.

"Tobago is still the bastard child," said vendor Arthur Wells. "And now, it looks it will have a career as a political football, too."

THE Sunday Express was unable to contact Tobago West MP Dr Delmon Baker, who recently underwent gastric bypass surgery and who, as a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist faith, could not be reached yesterday, as it was the Sabbath for that arm of Christianity.

Leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) Ashworth Jack said while he could not speak on Baker's behalf, he felt the TOP was doing its best.

"I am happy with the work we are doing and we will continue to do our best and take the interest of the people of Tobago to heart," Jack said.