Dr Winford James
Have you seen the letter sent to Chief Secretary Farley Augustine by an outfit called CEP Limited, inviting him to attend a focus group meeting on the construction of ‘a guide jetty’ at the Scarborough Port?
The letter, dated February 15, 2023, informs the CS that CEP Limited was selected by the employer, NIDCO (National Infrastructure Development Company) as the consultant to ‘provide all the necessary engineering services for the development of the conceptual designs’ and was concerned to meet with ‘all stakeholders including other Government agencies and relevant interest groups with a view to determining their concerns with respect to the recommended works.’
The jetty guide was intended to ‘increase the berthing infrastructure at the Port and the purpose of the meeting was to ‘introduce and present details on the project and obtain valuable feedback from the community and stakeholders to apply to the project’s development.’
As NIDCO’s consultant, CEP Limited was making the announcement about both the introduction and the invitation to Chief Secretary.
The nerve of the Government. And NIDCO. And CEP.
They blatantly ignore the House of Assembly and its chief executive officer about this project, then have the gall to lump that officer with the rest of the stakeholders in their focus group meeting. The Government is clearly and unashamedly doing its damnedest to make the Assembly and Executive Council look small and to expand their jurisdictional influence over the Tobago Government and Tobagonian space.
It must be pointed out, again and again and again, that the country’s Government/Cabinet chose to use, not its principal political officers to communicate information on this new project, but an unelected state agency and its equally unelected consultant. These two parties were used to introduce to our Chief Secretary–yes, introduce!–a project that was proposed to be put down in the Tobagonian geopolitical space.
As Basdeo Panday would say over a slight such as this if he were still Prime Minister, ‘That’s insulting!’
The insult derives from the fact, under current Assembly legislation at area of responsibility 16, the Assembly has jurisdiction over ‘infrastructure, including air and sea transportation, wharves and airports and public utilities.’ So that the Government is acting illegally in appropriating the construction of the jetty guide at the Scarborough wharves. And it is compounding this error by using low-level personnel to treat with the matter.
The Government’s massive disrespect in this matter recalls a similar behaviour in the construction of the new international airport at Crown Point. The disrespect is clearly ingrained in its political modus operandi.
It would have been far more just for the national Government to provide the Assembly with the funds to operationalise the DIQUD Secretary’s plans for the Scarborough Port or, at the very least, to collaborate with the Assembly on the design, financing, and construction of the guide in accordance with current Assembly law.
But where Tobagonian autonomy is concerned, there will always be moments for querulous politics. So far autonomy has been subject to Trinidadian recalcitrance. Government after government, but particularly PNM governments, has wanted to run things in Tobago, whether the Government in Scarborough is politically identical to the one in Port-of-Spain or not.
Accordingly, there is a strong suspicion that the national Government, which is in practical terms Trinidad, does not really want to define Tobago but to control all of the island, especially its marine space under current law. And minimalising acts like constructing the jetty guide and treating the Assembly as if it is not the Government of Tobago in the communication process are calculated to preserve, if not advance, Trinidad’s ambitions.
But there is also a strong suspicion about the seriousness of the current Assembly on the business of autonomy. The Assembly is going on 15 months now, but it has said precious little to Tobagonians about autonomy, providing instead a massive dose of political commesse and a worrying exclusion of Tobagonians from its policymaking process.
If you are wondering if Augustine attended the meeting (on March 1), he didn’t, preferring to send the relevant secretary, who sent his coastal engineer. But the Microsoft Teams link was defective when I last checked, so they may have missed the meeting.
Surely, providence could not have been teaching the Government good manners?
Winford James is a retired UWI lecturer who has been analysing issues in education, language, development, and politics in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean on radio and TV since the 1970s. He also has written hundreds of columns for all the major newspapers in the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org