The island of Tobago is not unaccustomed to people fighting over her. Tobago has been fought over by numerous powers, numerous times. According to the history books, the original Kalinago population was forced to defend their island against other Amerindian tribes.
And when Christopher Columbus and the first set of colonisers sighted Tobago in 1498, the fight for the island did not stop.
There were numerous upheavals during the quest for ownership by the Courlanders, the Dutch, English, Spanish, Swedish and French. The island was a battle zone as it changed hands no fewer than 33 times, the most in West Indian history, before it was finally ceded to the British under the Treaty of Paris.
Tobago is again being fought for. However, this time around, instead of violence, those seeking control are using promises to win the island over. On January 25 the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election ended with a six-six deadlock between the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP). Tobagonians will now return to the polls on December 6 to break that deadlock.
Forty-five candidates from five political parties have registered to contest the upcoming THA Election. The PNM and the PDP have fielded candidates in all fifteen electoral districts.
The Innovative Democratic Alliance will contest 13 of the 15 electoral districts, with no candidates vying for the electoral districts of Belle Garden/Glamorgan and Roxborough/Argyle.
The Class Action Reform Movement and Unity of the People political parties have each fielded one candidate in the electoral district of Buccoo/Mt Pleasant, which is the only electoral district being contested by five candidates. On the hustings, there has been no end to the promises being made to Tobagonians. PNM Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine revealed plans for a $60 million revitalisation of the Scarborough waterfront.
Davidson-Celestine stated the upgrade works include a 2,000-foot long boardwalk, marketplace, food court, restaurants, bars, cafes and entertainment and retail shopping spaces. Davidson-Celestine said the project has been in the works for the past three years and is being jointly funded by the State and the Inter American Development Bank. The proposed works are expected to begin in January.
Davidson-Celestine said Tobagonians will have a “new and improved Scarborough.”
This first phase of the capital’s redevelopment is expected to take 18 months. On January 20, the PDP unveiled a 12-point plan highlighting its vision for the New City of Scarborough. Major projects of this plan include a new ferry terminal, a roundabout and opening a museum. As a way to stimulate business activity and significantly boost the island’s tourism, PDP candidate for Scarborough/Mt Grace Trevor James said he believes the island needs three piers to allow the simultaneous docking of three large cruise ships.
James accused the PNM, of “hijacking” the plans for the capital city. The promises have not been limited to the capital city though.
PDP political leader Watson Duke also promised THA employees that if his party wins the election, they will receive an ex gratia payment for Christmas.
According to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the THA currently employs around 60 per cent of the island’s workforce.
THA’s chief secretary and PNM candidate for Buccoo/Mt Pleasant Ancil Dennis announced a $50 million stimulus package to support struggling Tobagonians and business owners as well as to enhance the island’s tourism sector.
Dennis said $20 million will go towards workers displaced by the pandemic; $15 million will be for the accommodation sector; $5 million for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and $10 million to the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd to assist in the digitisation of businesses in that sector.
In its Tobago manifesto 2021-2025, the PNM has listed five priority areas it believes is a strong foundation to build upon.
The five are Food Security and Agro-Processing, Business Development and Foreign Direct Investments, Digital Transformation, Autonomy and Self Government, and Infrastructure, Housing and Land Development.
The PNM said it will take steps to meet the high demand for housing, and in so doing, generate new jobs, revive the construction industry and stimulate the building materials, manufacturing, distribution and transportation sectors.
According to the manifesto the PNM will provide fully serviced lots to encourage building construction and guarantee ownership of property by residents.
It stated that it intends to construct 400 new homes at Courland Estate, Shirvan Estate, Adelphi Estate, Roxborough Estate, Indian Walk Estate and Riseland Estate.
The PNM said it also intends to provide 250 subsidised rental units for low income earners, the elderly, the physically challenged and the indigent. It also stated plans to use State lands to create residential developments “with starter homes that will make it affordable for persons to get on the housing ladder.”
“Starting from 2022, distribute at least 25 starter homes to eligible persons, making at least 300 homes per year,” it stated. It also promised to assist single mother with payments for kindergarten. PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine, the party’s choice for chief secretary, has also been advocating for greater opportunities for young people to own land.
The PNM in its manifesto also called for the construction of “at least” one desalination plan on the island. “Work with the Central Government to construct at least one desalination plant where residents and industry can access the vast natural resource just off our shores. Through PPP (public-private partnership) more rural areas will be able to access an alternative source of water thus vastly cutting down on existing challenges,” it stated.
Instead of a manifesto, the PDP produced a mandate.
In the mandate the PDP called for a higher allocation from the annual national budget: “Via the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC), Tobago is entitled to access between 4.03 per cent and 6.9 per cent of the National Budget. Tobago has been short-changed every year for past 20 years. The PDP will be seeking an allocation closer to 6.9 per cent instead of the usual 4-5 per cent. This will give us the additional finances which we are entitled to and bring us closer to achieving our developmental goals,” it stated.
The PDP also called for the creation of a Tobago National Development Bank, whose main shareholders will be the THA, Tobago cooperatives, and the Tobagonian diaspora. The TNDB will have four ( branches – most likely in Roxborough, Mason Hall, Bon Accord and Scarborough. Dr Faith B Yisrael said the PDP is updating its mandate ahead of the upcoming election.