By now we we’ve seen the THA Leaders’ Debate, part of the production of this circus that has become the THA Election. And I say production because when you looked at the closing credits of the programme Thursday night, you realized how controlled and manipulated the entire show and who were the key players behind the entire debate:Trinidadians, not Tobagonians. The entire production and research team is Trinidad-based. No wonder the questions only touched the surface of Tobago’s issues and never went further. You would think we would stop insulting Tobago and let them run their own affairs and ask their own questions about their Electoral process.
You'd think too that after a week of meetings with Roodal Moonilal, Vasant Bharath, Suruj Rambachan and Jack Warner, Ashworth Jack wouldn't need to use a cheat sheet in his bid to become Chief Secretary...or is is Cheat Secretary? one never knows with this UNC government.
I have never known Trinidadians to be so interested in Tobago except on long weekends and holidays when they looking for a beach house to rent so that they can clog up Store Bay. Growing up with a Tobagonian mother, names like Hochoy Charles, Hilton Sandy, Orville London and the ever revered ANR Robinson were common place. We paid attention to THA Elections avidly. It was a big deal for Tobagonians and my mother explained it well. Before Tobago was joined to Trinidad the island ran its own affairs, then after the warding in 1898 the island was treated like a dependent unwanted child. It was reliant on Trinidad to make every decision for it: roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, salaries, ferries all came from Trinidad and depended on a government in Trinidad to make decisions for. The island was historically underdeveloped, and because PNM was the party in power the longest that is the one grouse they have had with the PNM and for which London is now facing some pressure. How London has managed Tobago’s budget and development is perhaps his greatest challenge in this election.
Enter from stage right Ashworth Jack, hungry for the position of Chief Secretary. I imagine the thought of having $17 billion dollars to play with over a decade would be appealing to him, especially from a man who seems to have been able to create vast amounts of wealth from pumpkin and cucumber seeds. Now the interesting thing is that had the TOP stood on its own in Tobago and really been an independent party, Jack might actually be far more popular than London is right now because after 12 years I believe many Tobagonians want a different type of THA. But the fear of the UNC has galvanized support behind London’s PNM in a way that had the political landscape been different we would not have experienced such pro-PNM enthusiasm.
As much as Jack has tried to distance his party from his political partnership with the UNC, it has been virtually impossible to shake the association. Friends does carry you Ashworth... Long before the Shopping Toppin fiasco the TOP has been hurting from its relationship with the UNC. And as we all know the list is long: Reshmi, Gopaul Contract, the SoE, Pension Fiasco, Vidwattie Newton, Section 34, Cheryl Miller, Wayne Kublalsingh and the $7b Highway.
Tobagonians are looking on at Trinidad battling some of the worst corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and constitutional crises ever. It doesn’t help the TOP’s cause either that the UNC has so often insulted and taken pot shots at Keith Rowley, PNM Opposition Leader and another son of the soil. Tobagonians are considering what the UNC’s policies in office could mean for them. They are considering that if Kamla et al can treat Trinidad’s Parliament as her own private playground, and the treasury as her own private piggy bank, what will happen to Tobago and Tobagonians if the TOP gets into power and makes UNC rule in the country absolute?
Ownership, independence and autonomy means a lot to Tobagonians. And having faced the acute shame of being colonized by Trinidad for more than a century, Tobagonians are not only ready, but possibly in an economic position to assert their independence. And that’s why this THA Act and the issue of maritime boundaries are so crucial. If, as Robinson has been saying since 1977 there is fuel deposits in the seabed off Tobago, then the island stands to experience an economic boom and a development thrust as has never been experienced on the island. We can only hope they will avoid the mistakes Trinidad makes. But there is the very real fear that a TOP controlled by the UNC will hoodwink and cheat Tobago out of its birthright and that Ashworth Jack will sellout Tobagonians.
And it is this fear of the UNC’s apparent avarice and corruption that makes Hilton Sandy’s prejudiced comment last week make more sense. Let’s be honest with each other, even in Trinidad Indians face the stereotype of being land hungry and corrupt. This regime has done little to dispel those stereotypes from the national consciousness. There have been numerous questions about the number of properties UNC Cabinet Ministers have been able to purchase in the past 30 months and very few answers.
Tobagonians are suspicious of Trinidadians in general; but they are also far more suspicious of Trinidadians wanting to buy up their lands and deny them their birthright. In the last ten years the ethnic landscape of the island has changed dramatically. There are more Indians living and working in Tobago now than any other time, an island to which Indians have no historical ties. And now in 2012 it appears to Tobagonians that Trinidadians, particularly Indo-Trinidadians are taking over their island. It doesn’t help either that the UNC has made so many race-related comments – the PM, Jack Warner, Nizam Mohammed, Neil Parsan, Devant MAharaj –for which they have never apologized. So ganging up on Hilton Sandy and asking him to resign after his apology must seem bullying.
That Hilton Sandy’s comment was inelegant and racist is not in question. It should never have been said. But the statement reveals some of the concerns of Tobagonians under a TOP government. With Milshirv no longer a scandal, the TOP needed something to campaign with. They lack real policies. Jack is setting out to bribe Tobagonians into voting for him. So schools, hospitals, salary increases, fishing depots and roads are on the gift list, but no real autonomy. And the same Jack, owner of the magic pumpkin seeds, who was caught using a cheat sheet at last Thursday’s debate is now setting himself up to become Tobago’s Cheat Secretary.