I attended a panel discussion at the Bocas Lit Fest last Thursday on the topic “An Equal Place?” which had a diverse panel that consisted of Sophia Chote, Mariano Browne, Attilah Springer, Sheila Rampersad, and the moderator Colin Robinson.
There were many interesting perspectives that were raised, but the one topic that was not discussed was the inequality of Tobago in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. After listening to the panel discussion for an hour and 20 minutes, I rose to ask the question about Tobago. Unfortunately, there was no discussion on it.
There can be all kinds of issues that will be discussed under such a heading, however, if there is one issue that needs a discussion about inequality is the plight of Tobago.
Having been annexed to Trinidad between 1887 and 1899 by the British Government, Tobago was downgraded to the status of a ward and the existing laws of Trinidad were made the existing laws of Tobago.
Tobago has suffered all of the inequalities that a second smaller island could suffer in a mythical status of standing side by side in a presumed condition of equality. There was no one from Tobago on the panel who could have articulated anything about Tobago and the island remains in a condition whereby the panacea for their inequality is supposed to come in the form of internal self-government.
After considering this issue over the years through public consultations and discussion, it is now apparent that the way forward will not come if the unitary state model is retained.
Only a federal structure can deliver that desired autonomy that will make equality real and not imagined. Having internal self-government where the Central Government in Trinidad holds the final say in certain policy areas is not a solution. Unless the Parliament is prepared to amend the Tobago Internal Self-Government Bill that is currently before it to reshape the state of Trinidad and Tobago into a full federal state and abolish the unitary state, Tobago will continue to get the wrong end of the stick and remain in a permanent condition of inequality in relation to Trinidad.
The constitutional reform that is required to deliver the equality that the national anthem aspires to deliver to both islands must now embrace federalism. The reforms of 1980 and 1996 and the work that was done after 1996 must now be converted into a full federal model whereby Trinidad stands as a single entity and Tobago stands as a single entity and both are equal.
There must be a legislature for Trinidad and a legislature for Tobago. They will each see to their own affairs in the spirit of true self-government for each separately and there can be a federal structure over both of them that will address the national issues of the Federation of Trinidad and Tobago.
The local government model in Trinidad can form the basis for the self-government for Trinidad, while the THA model can form the basis for Tobago. The national Parliament can be recast to deal with the federal issues that will be set aside for the Federation, thereby leaving an exclusive list of powers for the legislatures of each island. If that is not done, Tobago will never get the true equality that it deserves.
It was pleasing to note that Colin Robinson highlighted the fact that our National Anthem is an edited version of “Song For Federation” that had also been composed by Pat Castagne for the Federation of the West Indies. After the demise of that federation in 1962, Castagne entered his revised song in the National Anthem competition that was held in August 1962 for our new national anthem and he won it.
Trinidad and Tobago moved from being part of the Federation of the West Indies which might have continued after the secession of Jamaica, to seeking its own independence by also seceding from the Federation.
In establishing the newly-independent State of Trinidad and Tobago, we went from being part of a nation-state called “The West Indies” to having our own independence as “Trinidad and Tobago” between September 19, 1961 (the date of the Jamaican referendum) to January 14, 1962 (the date on which the PNM General Council passed a resolution calling on the Government to withdraw from the Federation).
Nationalism and patriotism had to be suddenly formed in four months for a new nation-state.