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Tobago love: THA elections
The scramble for seats in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections is heating up, although it would seem coverage of the campaigning in Trinidad’s daily publications is somewhat limited. There seem to be more full-page advertisements being placed by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), although it is difficult to imagine to whom those garish and expensive adverts are meant to appeal.
The leader of the TOP, Ashworth Jack, was the focus of media attention with unanswered questions about his ability to acquire a multi-million dollar property in Tobago. Air PNM in Trinidad cavorted daily with insinuations and thinly-veiled accusations of impropriety in public office.
Mr Jack did himself no favours with his stubborn defiance; his refusal to spill his guts over the intimate details of his financial life. Photographs appeared of Mr Jack in his “garden,” spawning a slew of typically weak Trini joke: “I want to know whot kyna ponkin it is he growin dey so I could get some seed fuh meself!”
Trying to steer Tobagonians clear of “distractions” foisted on the public by the ruling PNM “London brothers’ Assembly dynasty,” Mr Jack has been harping on the track record of the THA under the stewardship of Chief secretary Orville London. His arsenal includes references to a number of capital projects yet to be completed by the THA, wanton waste by the Assembly and a glaring lack of direction or a governance philosophy.
Recently, Mr Jack was quoted as describing Scarborough as a dying town, ascribing what he considers to be the failing fortunes of the capital of Tobago to the ineptitude of the current administration. It was a risky move, given the sort of reactions which followed from the Tobago public: “Whaaat chupidness he talkin’, Scarborough much more better and more cleaner than all of Trinidad!”
Coming from the mouth of the average Tobago Joe, that remark of course has nothing to do with Mr Jack’s assessment of the economic standing of Scarborough but points to something more profound. Traditionally, Tobagonians do not vote the way Trinidadians do simply because they don’t have the deeply entrenched tribal politics supported by decades of racial division. Not to worry, though, it seems that can be changed!
Secretary of Finance in the THA, Anselm London, was recently spotted on facebook posting dire warnings against allowing these “foreigners” a foothold on the island. His naked xenophobia was directed inward, at the United National Congress (UNC)—a Trinidadian political party—not outward at some faceless invading aggressor (although it could be argued that he views them as one and the same thing).
Anselm London has always had very strong views on the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago. In an extensive interview he trilled sweetly about the glowing credit rating bestowed upon Tobago by the international credit rating agency, Standard and Poor’s.
Mr London viewed this favourable rating as an endorsement of the sound fiscal governance of the THA. He then made a very curious remark: the Finance Secretary suggested that their credit rating could have been higher had it not been pulled down by the poor performance of the Trinidad economy.
One could interpret that to mean that Tobago would fare much better were it not stricken with the albatross of the overbearing big brother that is Trinidad. This might play well with the Tobago electorate (not that there is any truth to it) because while they may be unhappy with the performance of the present regime, they certainly don’t want to import Trinidad’s current brand of governance to their island.
The TOP is being sold by the PNM as a mere corollary to the questionable practices of the UNC-led central Government. That is enough to terrify any right-thinking Tobagonian.
Fear of the UNC notwithstanding, the incumbent does have a problem. It has presided over steadily declining tourist arrivals. According to independent senator Dr Victor Wheeler, Tobago has suffered a 60 per cent decline in tourist arrivals over the past five years. Orville London has in the past attributed the anaemia in the industry to the global economic crisis.
With tourism rebounding in previously stagnated tourist economies like St Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica, Orville London’s justification has outlived its usefulness. This has been compounded by the decision of Virgin Airlines to pull its flights for the summer months, a dreadful turn of events laid squarely in the lap of the Assembly by Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz.
The Assembly’s response was: “The relationship between the THA and the airlines is something that the minister does not understand.” In other words, stay out of big people business.
Tobagonians have a tough decision on their hands: reinstall a regime which has not yielded any significant change on the island other than dubious and costly infrastructural projects, or vote in the TOP, a Trojan horse for the UNC Government. The relationship between the islands has always been a complex affair; it is likely to be made more so regardless of the outcome of the THA elections.
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