Friday, January 4, 2013

Commentary: After 12 years, it's time for Tobago to change and move forward

Ashworth Jack and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) should take comfort from the words of Britain’s Iron lady, Margaret Thatcher. 

“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left,” the former Prime Minister remarked once in reference to attacks from the opposition. 

It’s relevant to the politics of Tobago today. 

What has the People’s National Movement (PNM) led by Orville London done with $17 billion over the past 12 years that it can “sell” to the electorate? And what can it offer Tobagonians to justify re-election?

Instead of answering those questions it is blurring the debate for the January 21, 2013 Tobago House of Assembly election with personal attacks on the THA minority leader, Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP). 

And it is boasting that its “youth and experience” can “Stand in Defence of Tobago”. 

Experience is a rather interesting term. One dictionary definition is that experience is the “accumulation of knowledge or skill that results from direct participation in events or activities”. 

In that context London and his PNM are “experienced” hands at governing Tobago. You might even say it’s an advantage they have over Jack and his TOP members. 

However, before we get carried away, let us understand that while “experience” means what our definition says, it is understood also that “experience” would mean that you are capable of doing something meaningful. 

And if after 12 years of “experience” you have precious little to show for it, all you are saying is that you are “experienced” at doing nothing. And seen in that context, London’s “experience” counts for nothing and becomes an Albatross around his neck simply because he would continue to do nothing and squander your money if you put him and his team back in charge of the THA

On the other issue – the defence of Tobago – there is no need to worry about that because the island is not under threat from anywhere except from the imaginary racist threat that the PNM is marketing as part of its election campaign.

PNM canvassers are telling the people only the PNM can look after them because the Indo-centric People’s Partnership would allow Indians to overrun the island to the detriment of the majority black population. Such overt racism is not only dangerous it is a farce.

Why is the PNM so frightened of Indian participation in the affairs of Tobago when at the same time its leader in Trinidad is going out of the way in his imaging attempts to embrace Indians? 

After all the chairman of the national party, Franklyn Khan, is an Indo-Trini. PNM leader Keith Rowley made sure he and his wife, Sharon, donned the finest Indian garments when they visited Divali Nagar last November.

Rowley showed up in Debe to eat doubles with his “Indian” party members and later attended Mastana Bahar, the iconic Indian cultural television program created decades ago by the late Sham Mohammed, who was a PNM cabinet minister when he launched the show. 

In the midst of all this “indianisation” of Rowley and the PNM, the Tobago arm of the party that London leads is building a firewall to keep Indians out, boldly proclaiming in its election advertising that it stands in defence of Tobago. 

And London is making the point very clearly he won't forgive any Tobagonian who doesn’t vote for the PNM. One TOP candidate asked on Sunday if London thinks he is God because it is only God who has the power to forgive.

The picture created by the PNM is one of confusion between the national and regional arms of the party and demonstrates a measure of hypocrisy, which is why London is hiding the “re-imaged” Indian-embracing Rowley in Trinidad to ensure that neither he nor Rowley is unmasked.

Tobago, of course, has nothing to fear from TOP, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesssar and the PP or any imminent invasion of Indians. Kamla made that very clear when she spoke at the TOP rally on Sunday.

She made the point that if Indians or anyone else want to go to Tobago to live, work and invest in the island they don’t need anybody’s permission. And if the PP taking over the government meant an Indian invasion of Tobago, it would have happened since May 2010. So the PNM argument about “protecting” Tobago is baseless.

The truth is the PNM and London cannot explain to the people what they have done with $17 billion over the past 12 years when the most important economic engine – the tourism sector – is almost at a standstill with the THA doing nothing to improve it.

According to an editorial in the Guardian newspaper, “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.”

The PNM under London is doing everything to avoid that because it has nothing to contribute and it has no plan for the future. So the only thing it can say, the only thing it IS saying is, “put us back” and we’ll protect you from the PP and its supporters.

It’s even worse when you consider that London’s THA had the benefit of a PNM administration in Port of Spain from 2001 to 2010. And while the Manning PNM administration kept tossing money into Tobago through the THA it seemed to be going into a bottomless pit because Manning never had any plan for Tobago.

The island was always a PNM stepchild, and the situation grew worse in 1976 when the people of Tobago rejected the PNM in the general election and elected A.N.R. Robinson and Winston Murray as their MPs. Williams spitefully dismantled the Ministry of Tobago Affairs and turned his back on the island. Tobago’s pariah status grew even worse when Robinson’s party (NAR) won the THA election in 1981.

Today the TOP is offering Tobago a better deal through its association with the People’s Partnership administration, which promised in its 2010 election manifesto to make sure Tobago stands “side by side” with Trinidad instead of “one behind the other”. 
And the central government has been making good on that pledge by bringing to Parliament on January 7, 2013 a bill for the self government of Tobago that would give the THA the power to make its own laws and much more. The central government is also doubling the money it allocates to the island and expanding the consultative process between Tobago and Trinidad. 

Yet the PNM is “protecting” Tobago. From what? From getting a better quality of life? From greater investment in the economy? From more jobs and better health care and much more?

TOP can deliver on these because it is a part of the governing establishment in Port of Spain that has made a commitment to ensure that Tobago enjoys the same benefits as Trinidad – standing side by side.
The election on January 21 is about Tobago and whether it has a future. It is about what Tobago can do for itself through its association with a progressive government. If for no other reason, the people of Tobago should opt for change because if 12 years of PNM rule has produced nothing tangible another four would do the same. 

This election is a defining moment for the people of Tobago. It is their opportunity to choose to either stand in political quicksand and sink with the PNM or move forward into an era of prosperity and opportunity by embracing and electing a party that puts Tobago first, making sure that Tobago is never left behind again.

Jai Parasram

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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