Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guardian Editorial - What should be the Tobago political conversation

The suggestion by Reginald Dumas, distinguished retired ambassador and head of T&T’s public service, that the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election is a “national referendum…confined to Tobago” should not be dismissed out of hand. 

That certainly will be how the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), the two main parties contesting the polls, would wish to frame it.

It is in the interest of both to use the election as a gauge of national political sentiment and to regale their supporters about how the construction of a private residence is being financed or why the public/private partnership approach was proposed to finance a public building. 

While these issues will no doubt appeal to some of Tobago’s voting-age population of about 40,000, what Tobago voters really need is a sober, frank and easily digestible discussion by both parties of bread-and-butter issues relating to the island’s economy.

The issues that should be dominating the political conversation in Tobago over the next three weeks should be: 
the current state of the Tobago economy; the extent to which Tobagonians have benefited from the economy; and the future of the island’s economy—either as an appendage of Trinidad or as a nation that is moving gradually—or rapidly—to some more profound form of internal self-government.

Tobago, at this time, has two main sources of revenue: subventions from the central Government, and the money generated by the tourism industry, the major non-governmental economic activity on the island. 
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) thought Tobago tourism was so important that the organisation dedicated a section of the 2011 Article IV consultation to a discussion of the issue.

The IMF estimated that tourism contributed 37 per cent of the island’s GDP, generated 48 per cent of its employment, and accounted for 98 per cent of its exports. 

In words that will ring true to most people who have visited Tobago recently, the IMF analysed that “the island has had the weakest tourism performance in an already badly hit region,” that “the island’s tourism sector is grappling with fundamental challenges,” and that “over the medium term, the outlook for a turnaround is not encouraging.”

In a 2005 report, a World Travel & Tourism Council report described Tobago as “one of the most tourism-intensive economies in the world.” While visitor arrivals to all of the Caribbean have been battered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US and then the European debt crisis of the last two years, some of the reasons that Tobago “has had the weakest tourism performance in an already badly hit region” have been self-inflicted.

Analysts make a direct link between the island’s “weakest tourism performance” and an ill-conceived but popular land-licencing system that was introduced in order to stop the “threat” of Europeans buying up all the land on the island. It is also linked to several high-profile and well-publicised attacks on visitors, along with the slow response by the relevant authorities.

The parlous state of the island’s tourism is underscored by the fact that one of its few remaining foreign air carriers is considering withdrawing its once-weekly service during next year’s “summer” vacation. 

That so few foreign tourists have chosen to visit Tobago during the so-called peak period of “winter” tourism that began on December 15 ought to be a major concern to existing and intended policymakers on the island—and to Tobago’s voting population.

But is it?

In all likelihood, not enough voters in Tobago see a direct link between the number of tourists the island is able to attract and the quality of their future lives, which means that the politicians will continue to feed them a diet of the irrelevant and the inconsequential.

(Reproduced from the Guardian)

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai