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Gypsy: Tobago wants to do its own thing
Government minister, calypsonian and entrepreneur Winston “Gypsy” Peters admits he does not really understand the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago. He said as Minister of Community Development in T&T, he really had no influence in Tobago. Peters said the relationship between the two islands was really about Tobago getting money from Trinidad to do certain projects. But he felt Tobago wants to do its own thing.
Peters, the MP for Mayaro and cousin of ILP Chairman Jack Warner, said that with the possible exception of National Security Minister Gary Griffith’s portfolio, there was no real significance to being a government minister of anything in T&T. At his Rio Claro constituency office Tuesday afternoon, he spoke of developments in his ministry and how, despite adopting a rather low-key public profile, he had been diligently working on improving communities in Trinidad.
Q: Mr Peters, you apparently went undercover since the last realignment of the Cabinet. What are you up to these days?
A: (Wearing a puzzled expression) Well, you know, sometimes it is better for your work to be seen and felt. I have been working hard, working diligently, and keeping out of the press because I need to make sure that what I am doing is being done properly.
I have absolutely nothing against the press, but I do not believe that everything I do must be done in the media.
Your portfolio is self-explanatory—developing communities. What have you been doing to execute this mandate?
Let me tell you, we are having two years since I have been here...I have instituted…taken a note to Cabinet, one, to have recognition of people in the various communities who have done so much for their areas and [who] should not go unrecognised.
We have designated July 5 every year from last year, for the first time, as Community Development Day in T&T.
Across the country?
Yes. Yes. Last year, we gave out the Heroes Award, a biannual award. Why did we do that? You have people who have done so much and they go unrecognised.
What can you do for anybody in just one day?
In one day? Well, I don’t think one can do anything for anybody in one day other than to have lectures and stuff. Give them the knowledge so they can become self-sufficient in the years and so on. But over time, what you can do is educate the people. We have the Gap programme (Geriatric Adolescent Partnership Programme) and so many other initiatives to assist all the people in the many communities, a whole lot of programmes that people can tap into.
What’s the latest with the community centre building programme?
We have built three so far. But the reason why it has taken so long to get the community centres building programme off the ground is because when I got into this ministry I met 12 different designs for community centres.
I found that to be untenable, so I scrapped that and made one generic design for these centres in Trinidad. So, as of now, you would see only one type of such buildings. There are two sizes based on land availability in Trinidad. Seventeen are to be constructed.
What about Tobago? Any to be built there?
(Pausing and shaking his head) Tobago is a very ticklish place. I want to be honest with you, I don’t understand the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago. I want to be honest with you.
Not even the constitutional relationship?
I do not understand that, and I think that relationship is just for Trinidad to give Tobago the finances to do whatever they want when they want to. I think that is all Tobago really cares about. I was Minister of Arts and Multi-Culturalism and there was nothing I could have done in Tobago. I could not institute anything in Tobago.
Were you told by the THA that “this is we turf”?
Well, of course, that basically is what we were told when you go to do anything in Tobago. (A deep frown) Listen, the minister of anything in T&T is only by name. You don’t do anything. Maybe the minister of National Security, if in fact something gets out of hand and they need real firepower or something they would call on the minister of National Security. But really and truly, I believe that Tobago wants to do its own thing.
Well, I don’t think that…
I don’t know if to call it secession—that might be too strong a word; it may not be politically correct. Maybe as a calypsonian I would have said that but from where I sit, I wouldn’t really use that kind of language. But I do not believe that Tobago really and truly believes that it really needs Trinidad.
If it was in your power to so do, would you give it independence or freedom?
(Reflecting on the question) If it was in my power? Yes, I would have. Because as it is now, I do not understand the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago. My mandate says I am the Minister of Community Development in T&T, that is what I swore to, but I have nothing in Tobago. What am I doing in Tobago?
When I was Minister of Culture I had absolutely nothing. I was invited to the Heritage thing in Tobago as a guest, and I sat right in the front row and I wasn’t even recognised. The Chief Secretary said that he did not see me, after having sat there for an hour or so.
You were in the front row?
Yes. I was in the very first row. I wasn’t even acknowledged as being there. (Hands upraised while speaking animatedly) I mean it could have been an oversight, and I am not holding that against anybody as those are trivial things as far as I am concerned.
But to say to you that there is real significance of any ministerial responsibility in Tobago? No. The truth be told, the answer is no. I guess if Tobago needs to build some multi-storey thing worth several millions or a billion dollars, then the ministry comes into play.
Ok. Moving on. There was a period last year when your political affiliation was being called into question, people were questioning if you were going or staying with the PP Government. The ILP came into the picture. What’s your political allegiance at this time?
My political allegiance is, was, and for the foreseeable future would be the UNC. I have never joined any other party in my life.
When you say foreseeable—six months, seven months, 12 months?
I don’t know if you could see it. Foreseeable future meaning as much as politics goes, because I cannot see myself jumping from one place to another, I cannot see that. Ironically, it was Jack Warner who got me into politics. Jack Warner is my friend and relative.
Oh! How are you two related?
My cousin. The fact is, I love Jack. I am not going to pull Jack down in any way. If there is anything I could do to help him, I would in just the same way I will help my Cabinet colleagues and the public in general.
Back to your portfolio. Exactly what have you been doing for depressed communities like East Port-of-Spain and similar areas along the East-West Corridor?
(Somewhat worked up, his tone rising) We have been doing for Laventille what we have been doing for the whole of T&T, putting all the programmes in place that people can access these programmes. I cannot spoon feed people (angry tone with fists resting momentarily on his breast), and I want you to know that the Government should not be about that. There shouldn’t be any area where Government has to spoon feed anyone.
What the Government has to do is to make programmes accessible to all of T&T, and that is what we have been doing.
What then is the reason or reasons for the apparent disparity in the behaviour of some residents of East Port-of-Spain and the rest of the national community?
I cannot really understand the sociological problems that we may be having in all these places. The fact remains that there are some people who believe that life owes them something, and there are those who believe that they owe life something.
You did say you were not on board with the sociological factors affecting those areas, but you did an excellent job by deeply going into the psyche of these anti-social citizens in your classic number Little Black Boy a few years ago, which would go down in history as one of our most thought-provoking calypsoes.
Is it that the people the sentiments in that number described did not buy into what you were telling them and the nation as a whole? I think there are people from every community in the country and indeed in different parts of the world who get caught up to what I was saying, but I cannot say for a fact (his raised voice reverberating in his small office) that they did not get the message. I have had people come up to me and told me they understood what I was trying to do.
You don’t think that Government owes those crime-infested areas something special?
I don’t think the Government owes anybody anything special. The Government owes everybody something special. It owes the people the opportunity for self-upliftment, upward mobility, and I am under no illusion that this Government has more social programmes for EVERYBODY to access.