January 21 was a good day in Tobago's history, perhaps the island's best day ever. This was the view of the Movement for Development and Democracy (MDD) in Tobago.
Member of the party, economist Dr Vanus James said through an "unprecedented landslide for the forces of progress"—facilitated by the People's National Movement (PNM)—the people of Tobago sent a clear signal to the national community that they did not want to be a colony of Trinidad and they did not want immorality in public affairs, especially not in their leader and Chief Secretary.
"We comprehensively rejected both Kamla (Persad-Bissessar's) constitutional amendment (Tobago) bill as nothing but a bill for the formal colonisation of Tobago, and her chosen leader of that Trinidad project, Ashworth Jack of the TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People). No group of Tobagonians accepted them—to their eternal credit. The TOP lost 12-0," Dr James said.
In an interview with the Sunday Express, he said this was the first time any island's people in the Caribbean had a chance to decide by an election cum referendum, whether they wanted the system of Government being proposed for them.
"We voted "no", and by this action also took a decisive step towards true democracy and true development in Tobago for the first time in our history. Now, we move on quickly to the question: what on January 22, 2013, and beyond—what next? Is the "redwash" a problem for democracy? The MDD says no.
"First, we ask which group of Tobagonians should have endorsed immorality in public affairs or the enslavement of Tobago by constitutional amendment? Second, we observe that the main problem of the political system is the same now as before—the absence of a mechanism by which the people can control the executive functions from day to day," James said.
He said the problem would be there even if there was an Opposition in the THA.
To solve the problem, the people of Tobago, facilitated by the new THA, should move immediately to set up the People's House—a Senate for Tobago with powers of oversight of the THA, achieved via ultimate control of the veto over the law-making signature held by the President.
"That veto power is now in the hands of the Prime Minister, unfettered when all is said and done. This is a bad idea, and it is equally bad to put some of that unfettered power in the hands of the Chief Secretary. Final control of that veto belongs in the People's House, effected by a two-thirds majority or some such."
To facilitate creation of this type of Senate, the THA should move immediately to call a Tobago-wide Conference of Citizens—immediately and unconditionally—who come, come. At the same time, it should put in place now its own democratising devices: (1) a regular meeting of the political and business leaders of Tobago, including those who lost the elections on January 21, (2) a system of public hearings on THA decisions and on issues confronting Tobago before final decisions are made and (3) a public education programme for good governance in Tobago.
"Third, even as Tobagonians move to democratise internally, the Prime Minister must fall in line by withdrawing her bill. She must then obey the current law and come to Scarborough to talk with Tobagonians via the Chief Secretary, with a view to replacing her bill with clear proposals for a federal system in Trinidad and Tobago, including a National Senate with genuine capacity to oversee the work of the executive in the House of Representatives," James said.
"To run the People's House and the THA adequately, we need an effective economic development programme in Tobago; and for an effective development programme, we need the People's House—an effective Tobago Senate. So they must be built concurrently. Central to an effective Senate for Tobago is a community-based economic renewal programme," he added.
"Democracy in Tobago will have to rest on strong private enterprise in our communities. This will also require upgraded community government with upgraded village councils and a set of accountable community development authorities with the village councils as their boards of directors.
"Tobago will also need to establish with urgency a community crime prevention system and security agency. Economic development will attract criminals, and we need to address that prospect in advance." • See Page 7