Tobagonians spoke loudly Monday that they are not satisfied with the state of affairs on the island.
The 6-6 tie for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and the People’s National Movement (PNM) did not come as a shock to the hierarchy of the ruling party whose own internal polling showed they were losing ground. However, the size of the loss— four seats snatched by the PDP—should have set off alarm bells.
During the election, allegations were flying on both sides but the one that perhaps hurt the PNM the most was that at a time of suffering, the THA under Tracy Davidson-Celestine could not account for money allocated to a zip line project. The Auditor General raised concern that all that could be found was $2.5 million worth of rope.
Davidson-Celestine and PNM political leader Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sought to dismiss the reports with Dr Rowley boldly declaring he fully endorsed the project and directing Davidson-Celestine to proceed with it when she was elected Chief Secretary.
The outcome must set officials of PNM Tobago Council thinking and serve as a wake-up call for the PNM which won the general elections last August, but on Monday not only lost four seats in the THA but also the Arima Central Local Government seat.
Something is happening, and it would be to the detriment of the PNM if it does not wake up and smell the coffee.
What happened in Tobago has left the island in a state of flux. Neither the PNM nor the PDP seems willing to budge, so when the THA is called for the swearings-in tomorrow, the process will fail unless they can reach agreement on a presiding officer.
Ironically, Dr Rowley was part of the government that benefitted from the decision in 2001 when there was the now infamous 18-18 tie. Neither he nor any other leader envisaged that the 12-seat THA would end up deadlocked in the way it is now.
What makes the state of play more interesting is that PDP’s Watson Duke will not allow the PNM leeway in this matter. The business of Tobago will be at a standstill until it’s resolved. Constitutional experts are dusting off their books, scrambling to read the THA Act which may hold the key to how this is resolved.
If a presiding officer cannot be elected, the process will collapse and President Paula-Mae Weekes will have to tell the country what happens next.
This crisis could have been prevented had the lawmakers considered the THA has an even number of seats just like the Parliament did before the 18-18 election tie.
The change which should have been made to the THA Act long ago will now be forced, adjusting to 13 seats or some other uneven number.
At the end of the day, the crisis puts Tobago at a standstill. A fast ferry, new health facilities, road repairs and other projects over the last few months were not enough to save the PNM from being hung by a rope of their own making.
This should remind politicians voters care about what happens to their money and accountability and transparency.
In the end, it didn’t matter how well-oiled the 65-year-old PNM’s machinery seemed to be, or that an opinion poll had forecast a comfortable landslide win for the party. The people of Tobago had the final say.