The people of Tobago have spoken and they have repudiated Tracy Davidson-Celestine’s People’s National Movement (PNM). The party on Monday night not only lost four more seats in the assembly than it started off with, but also the popular vote. There is now a sense that the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) is on the march to securing control of Tobago.
Of course we have a stalemate with a 6/6 deadlock and, at time of writing, it was not clear which party will be in control of the Executive Council in Tobago, but a mere five months after the people voted in the general election to return the two Tobago seats to the PNM, and with the national party led by a Tobago-born Prime Minister who has focused much of his time and interest on delivering things to the people of Tobago, this conundrum must be a bitter pill to swallow.
It shows once again why the people of Tobago have consistently remained in pole position since 2000 as they have demonstrated that no political party can take their votes for granted and are prepared to switch allegiance if the other side, in their view, would do a better job at representing their interest.
In the last year, the Rowley administration delivered to Tobago East a new hospital, a new fire station, a new police station. The sod has been turned for a major tourism project. Tobago has gotten two ferries both boats, paid by Trinidad taxpayers, carrying Tobago names. A nod to Tobagonians.
A new airport terminal building is being constructed and the runway extended. Billions of dollars being pumped into the Tobago economy as the Tobago-born Prime Minister tries to sure up the party’s support on the island. Monday night’s results show it simply has not worked.
From what we have heard on the ground there were at least two key issues, the first being that of governance.
The revelation that $2.5 million of taxpayers money were spent on a zipline project with only rope to show for it resonated with many people who saw it as an example of the wastage and lack of accountability that happens at the THA.
At no time in the campaign did Davidson-Celestine address the issue frontally. She never apologised and instead started off by saying she was not there at the time and could not be held responsible, even though the records are clear, she was Tourism Secretary for almost two years after the project was approved by the Executive Council.
She then tried to shift the blame to the public servants saying they were not good at documenting things.
Davidson-Celestine responses allowed the PDP to caricature her as “tricky Tracy” and the Prime Minister entering the fray and ignoring the loss of public’s funds, instead saying to her to finish the project, added insult to injury as it showed his concern is not accounting for public funds but rather winning an election.
More must be said of this in the future.
There was, of course, the profligacy of this Davidson-Celestine PNM to settle scores that was also blamed for the poor performance, with the disparaging remarks aimed at Dr Vanus James, the hounding of Kelvin Charles out of office, the rejection of certain candidates.
But the reality is whoever gets control of the THA, the fundamental issues still remain and they must be a concern of every taxpayer in Trinidad and Tobago.
The first is the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago.
PDP’s deputy political leader Farley Augustine has in the past made it clear that he and the party wants a changed relationship with Trinidad.
For him internal self government is the least that Tobago should accept with it making its own laws and running its own show.
For me this is an important evolution and quite frankly must be a first step to Tobago realising its ultimate goal of being an independent island. The uneasy relationship that has existed since the paring of the islands by the British and the abandoning of the Ministry of Tobago Affairs by the late Dr Eric Williams are deep seated and engraved in the hearts of Tobagonians.
We must not pretend otherwise!
Therefore this is a necessary step. But with it must be new economic arrangements between the two islands.
The people of Rio Claro/Mayaro, La Brea, Santa Flora, Point Fortin, Couva and other industrial oil and gas villages, cannot be expected to spend their billions on Tobago in this new arrangement while their areas continue to be neglected by the Rowley administration.
I have already heard the rumblings in Tobago about Shell’s Barracuda and Colibri projects, with the same arguments that the gas in is “Tobago waters” and so on.
I would simple urge all those who ascribe to that view to look at the EITI reports that details by company, their contribution to the treasury and compare similar gas production and you just might find that the $2.5 billion that Tobago gets annually will be significantly slashed by between 60 and 75 per cent should that logic be applied in the way funds are disbursed.
The reality is that Tobago on its own does not generate a lot of money, in fact its tourism sector generates less taxes to government than does the Trinidad tourism sector.
There is a myth that the Tobago economy is driven by tourism. This is nothing but old talk and Tobago depends on government spending for is sustenance.
The PNM-controlled THA employed close to 70 per cent of all the workers on the island. This is unsustainable and successive Central governments have been afraid to challenge the THA on this issue.
It is a model that creates dependency on Trinidad for funds and ensures that the dependency is carried onto ordinary citizens in Tobago, thereby keeping the vote in check and under the control of the political directorate.
This may be the end of the rope for the PNM for now in Tobago but it is the beginning of what has to be new arrangements between the two islands, one in which Tobago is allowed to run its own show but not on the strength of Trinidad’s taxpayers.
The longest rope must have an end.