There seemed to be no clear winner at the end of last night's historic Tobago House of Assembly (THA) debate at the Magdalena Grand Hotel.
Hosted by the T&T Debates Commission, the debate featured political leaders Ashworth Jack (Tobago Organisation of the People), Hochoy Charles (Platform of Truth) and incumbent THA Chief Secretary Orville London, and was televised live on major local television and radio from 8.
At the end of the debate at 9.35 pm, however, Tobagonians and the general public may have been only a little better off in terms of their knowledge of the parties' philosophies on key issues ahead of the January 21 election.
This is because the debate's facilitator, Ronald Ramkissoon, ran a tight ship due to the time constraints, and did not allow the political leaders too much time to expand on questions posed by questioners, former head of the T&T Transparency Institute, Victor Hart, and Hayden Blades, an economist who is president of Business Insight Ltd. In fact, Ramkissoon often abruptly ended the contributions of the leaders as they went over their stipulated speaking time.
While London appeared the most poised and articulate of debaters last evening, his answers weighed heavily on lists of initiatives and programmes which he credited to his People's National Movement.
When asked how he would address youth unemployment, London listed various programmes already in place or no longer in place, rather than stating what new initiatives would be carried out.
On the other hand, Jack's responses seemed to lay constant blame on the PNM-led THA. When asked the same question about youth unemployment, Jack claimed youth unemployment was an indictment on London's administration.
Further responses to questions about the sharing of oil and gas revenues, the Scarborough hospital and economic inflation were also linked to the Jack's accusations of poor governance on the part of the PNM-led THA.
Yet both London and Jack were able to give more concrete responses than Charles, who proffered what sounded like a somewhat Tobago-nationalist sounding agenda. His opening remarks stated that Trinidad-based political parties were irrelevant to Tobago issues and set the tone for his contribution.
However, as a candidate running for office, there were one too many occasions when Charles' responses were preceded by admission of ignorance to information. Additionally, he seemed to boil all matters down to Tobagonians needing "empowerment."