We do not doubt that the TOP and its partners are convinced they can better represent the people of Tobago than the PNM has for the past decade plus. The Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) is a political programme dressed up in state clothes, used by regimes to build and maintain support. Naturally, the PP wants to wrest control of the Tobago arm of the programme from the PNM ruled THA. He who rules CEPEP rules the polls. The PP would not open a CEPEP office were the TOP currently in charge of the THA.
The PP’s position is somewhat at philosophical odds with its rumoured proposals for sweeping changes to the Constitution which will establish a Tobago legislature, empowered to make national law. It is acting very much like big government wielding a big stick. On the one hand, the PM is saying her administration intends to treat Tobago as a sister isle, but on the other, the Prime Minister is defending increased central government incursion into the management of Tobago affairs. The PP seems bent on whittling down this THA’s control of every area of local government by reducing its representation on boards or eliminating it altogether. The THA has said it will share the positions with TOP, but the PP is apparently not amenable to compromise. The PP might be in line with the letter of the THA Act, but it is close to violating its spirit.
A great deal of the tension has been caused by the PNM led THA which from the start of the PP’s term in office has not really sought to co-operate with central government but has preferred to be critical of its every proposal for Tobago. It was the THA PNM which fired the first shot in this war last year and it was also over funds for its unemployment projects, which it warned the PP not to decrease at a time when the PP was fighting to curtail massive government spending and waste. Additionally, Government has expressed concern over the management of Tobago’s CEPEP and oversight of financial affairs falls within its purview.
It is also reasonable and fair for the Prime Minister to have a functioning office in Tobago, for she has taken an oath to serve both Trinidad and Tobago. Autonomy has its benefits as well as its disadvantages. While locals do not have to depend on a central government for day to day administration, at times insularity begins to colour political discourse and policies tend to be a step behind political developments on the “mainland.” A national presence is crucial.
The principle problem is the definition of the political relationship between Trinidad and Tobago and how power is shared between a central government of Trinidad and Tobago and a local government like the THA. Under the most perfect of arrangements, there is always room for dispute. Who has the right to open the Scarborough Hospital? Should it be the Prime Minister after the PNM showed extreme inertia with regard to its completion? It was constructed with central government funds. Out of respect for Tobago’s local government, the hospital should be opened by both the THA Chief Secretary and the Prime Minister in a joint ceremony.
We encourage both sides to attempt to find common ground for the sake of the people of Tobago, for whose vote they are fighting. But we are eternally realistic. We recognise that this is but the start of the THA campaign and the battle will be waged relentlessly on all fronts, including the courts. The THA is the PNM’s last bastion of power and it intends to hold on to it. The PP wants Tobago and it has trained its cannons on the THA. The contest for Tobago is on.