Sunday, January 20, 2013

Commentary: All things considered Tobago would be better off if it chooses TOP

L-R: Ashworth Jack (TOP), Orville London (PNM and Hochoy Charles (TPT) 
The campaign is almost over and all that’s left now is for the people of Tobago to mark their ballots on Monday to determine who will manage their affairs for the next four years in partnership with the Central Government.

No matter who wins the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, they will have to work with the People’s Partnership administration led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. 

Orville London and the leadership of the People’s National Movement (PNM) have already demonstrated a hostile, adversarial policy to the central government and there is no indication today that it would change. 

Kamla has now declared the election a referendum on self government, shifting the focus from everything else to the one issue that the PNM opposes both at the local and the national level. "On Monday when you go to vote, I ask you to make this a referendum of internal self-government. If you want internal self-government, then vote for the TOP," she said at a TOP rally last Thursday.

What she is doing is making it crystal clear that it is only TOP that can deliver on that since the PNM has already stated both inside and outside of Parliament that it would not support the bill, which it says is seriously flawed.

The implication is that if the TOP loses, the government might be morally expected to withdraw the bill, meaning putting the PNM back is leaving Tobago as a subordinate partner in its union with Trinidad.

That's the challenge. It's the question Kamla is asking the people to answer on Monday.

The self government issue that the PM has now forced to centre stage came late in a campaign that had been filled with a lot of fluff and mudslinging without addressing the key issue in Tobago today and the real question in this election, which is the struggling Tobago economy and the near death status of the tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of the island.

So while self government has now become a valid campaign issue the other critically important one is how Tobago has fared in more than a decade of PNM rule, most of which were with a PNM administration in Port of Spain.

Are Tobagonians today better off than they were 12 years ago when Orville London and his PNM team won election and dethroned the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) administration led by Hochoy Charles, who is trying to make a comeback dressed in new garments as the Platform for Truth (TPT)?

Charles and his TPT present no more than nuisance value and he is not expecting to win. His primary mission is to block TOP from taking charge of the THA. And like Ramesh L. Maharaj and his Team Unity (TU) in the 2001 general election, Charles could have an impact. It would be much easier in the Tobago election with an entire electorate of just over 34,000.

Unless I missed something it seems to me that the two main parties invested so much money and time on mass advertising in the national media and mudslinging that they didn’t have the energy or resources to talk directly to people about what matters most – food, shelter, jobs. 

And on voting day the people might still be confused about who is better suited or more capable of guiding the island’s affairs for the next four years.

Even an historic leaders' debate ostensibly on economic issues failed to get into the subject. Orville London did a brilliant job of deflecting questions that called on him to account for his stewardship; Charles provided a history lesson on what he tried to do as Chief Secretary and Jack struggled to make his point that after 12 years of PNM mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility it is time for Tobago to embrace change and move forward.

The introduction of the self government bill painted the PNM into a corner by getting the party to declare that it would not allow the bill to pass. That's PNM obstructionism, not constructive criticism.

We expect the wrangling over Tobago self government to continue well past the election. However, by pushing that issue on the voter today Kamla has challenged every Tobagonian to stand up for the island and reject the PNM, which has turned down her government’s offer of more autonomy for Tobago.

There is still time for people to think about that and also to ask the politicians direct questions and demand acceptable answers before voting.

What real homegrown development has taken place recently? Where has $17 billion gone and how have the people benefited from it? Why is the economy in decline? Where are the jobs? Why is the economic mainstay – tourism – struggling when it is growing in the rest of the Caribbean? Does anybody have an economic plan?

If after 12 years you have to ask these questions then the obvious answers point to incompetence and maladministration not to mention fiscal misbehavior.

What Tobago needs today is change, not more of the same. Charles has tried and failed; his vision remains embedded in the past. London and his party have been appealing to Tobago’s parochialism saying its mission is to defend the island. Apart for the overt anti-Indian sentiments expressed and endorsed by the party (with a delayed, insincere apology) it has failed to show what it is defending.

The TOP today has the best credentials among the three parties in this race. It is a part of the governing establishment in Port of Spain and therefore can influence state policy. The central government is committed to equality for Tobago and Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the PP have demonstrated that they keep promises. That’s why Kamla is pushing this vote as a referendum.

Even if TOP’s economic agenda for the next four years is incomplete, its seat at the decision making table will guarantee that Tobago remains on the top of the agenda for the government. The PNM cannot offer that because it has demonstrated that in its dealings with Port of Spain it prefers an antagonistic, obstructionist and unproductive policy.

If in 12 years, most of it with a PNM central government, London and his team failed to improve the most basic things and keep the economy afloat, what justification do they have for asking the people for another four years? So far they have failed to show voters a genuine reason for reelecting them.

The conclusion therefore is this: on both principal campaign issues, TOP comes out on top.

TOP’s promise is that tomorrow will be better, the economy will grow, tourism will get the kick start it needs and there will be new jobs for those who need them. And most important, Tobago will get the equal treatment it deserves.

In 2013, the people of Tobago have a very clear choice – maintain the status quo and stick with the devil you know or take control of your destiny and make the change. Progress is defined by the ability to give up old ways and embrace new ones.

The establishment that existed for 12 years has failed and is now obsolete. Now is the time to build a new model that takes Tobago out of the economic quicksand and allows the island and its people to achieve their full potential. A new journey can only begin when we learn to let go of the past.

Orville London and his team have had 12 years and failed Tobago. They don’t deserve another four.

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