Sunday, February 24, 2013

'Call for Tobago boycott not affecting arrivals'

Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Secretary Orville London has said the call by some to boycott Tobago in the wake of the crushing defeat of the People's Partnership was not having an impact on the flow of Trinidadians to the sister isle.

Speaking to the media following a meeting with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her Parliament office yesterday, London said: "People who have been coming to Tobago would recognise that the claims being made by those who were calling for a boycott were preposterous. I mean, if you are coming to Tobago and you are being discriminated against, you would know. Nobody has to tell you that. The people who have been coming to Tobago would know that the question of discrimination against visitors to Tobago is a ridiculous statement and position, and I don't think it has had any effect on people coming to Tobago," he said. 

Finance Minister Larry Howai and Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal were also at the meeting. 

London said, however, he was not comfortable with the role Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was playing with respect to the tourism sector. He said he indicated to Howai that CAL was using its subsidies from the Central Government to introduce predatory pricing on routes into Trinidad and Tobago, deterring foreign airlines from bringing people to Tobago.

 "So we are losing price, we using taxpayers' money to place Caribbean Airlines in a position where it can bring down the prices, deter airlines, and of course the tourism sector in Tobago is suffering," he said. 

Asked whether he raised the issue of the timely release of budgetary funds to Tobago, London said he wanted to leave pre-election issues alone. "I am convinced that was a pre-election ploy... Now the dynamics have changed, people have an opportunity to revisit their behaviour and behave differently... I want to give people the benefit of the doubt (and have them change their behaviour)... and revisiting these painful episodes would just make the healing more difficult. I did tell the Prime Minister that as long as nobody troubles me, I will trouble nobody," he said. 

On the issue of self-government, he said he recommended the THA put together a team of representatives of the political interests and technocrats from Tobago to meet with the Central Government team and come up with a common position. "All of us have agreed on the what (self-government)... it (the contention) is about the how," he said, adding that the aspect had been politicised and there was polarisation.

 "I did not get concurrence, but I did not get opposition (to my suggestion)," he said. 

He said if this process can start as soon as possible, the recommendation for two additional senators on the THA does not have to take prominence. He said if this team could hammer out an agreement in four to six months, then the new constitutional arrangements could address the issue of the additional senators. He said he had met with Hochoy Charles, who is willing to give advice, suggestions as well as criticism.

Asked whether he had spoken with Ashworth Jack, London said: "I am going to wait until things settle down. I have no objection to meeting with the TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People). But I think in all fairness to them and to myself, I should wait until things settle down before I make a formal invitation."

London said he also raised the issue of housing for Tobago. He said whereas at the national level, billions are raised for housing via bonds, etc, Tobago had to build all its houses by cash, "which is preposterous".

London also raised the issue of THA representation on State boards. He said when the Government assumed office, the THA was represented on 30 boards. Its representation was now down to five boards. "This creates an administrative challenge because boards and committees make decisions without the input of Tobago in areas where the Tobago House of Assembly has control and responsibility such as the TDC, NCC, Port Authority," he said.

London congratulated the President-elect Anthony Carmona as well as the new Prime Minister of Grenada (Keith Mitchell), "who has a similar problem to me", and the Prime Minister of Barbados.


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