|Vernella Allyne Toppin|
Tobago-East Representative Vernella Alleyne Toppin is not yet ready to ride out into the political sunset. In fact, the prominent politician is indicating that she is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the Tobago Organisation of the People continues to be relevant to the people of Tobago. Toppin has mounted a challenge against the incumbent chairman of the party, Lionel Coker. The party holds its internal election on June 1. She is backed by a team of individuals, even though the former university lecturer would not define it as a slate. Toppin’s challenge to Coker comes at a time when some within the party are calling for a total revamp of the party’s executive following the crushing defeat by the party, which was once poised the dominate the political landscape in Tobago.
Asked about her basis for running for the arduous task of the main administrative officer in the party, Toppin said it was the necessary at this time. Speaking with Tobago News in an exclusive interview on her porch at her residence in Plantations, she explained that when the results were announced on January 21, she was shocked at the outcome and immediately went into investigative mode to determine from the electorate, the reasons why the party lost so significantly.
The research, she said, showed that the loss by the party was linked to a number of reasons, pointing to the fact that their strategies had not covered all of the bases and therefore the party had not presented the best strategy. “There were weaknesses,” she insisted. Toppin said she had suggested after the election, that everyone on the Executive should vacate their position and leave it up to the members to elect a new executive to lead the party.
“I decided that I would throw my lot in by holding a position of influence where I can make a difference; my ideas, my strengths, my abilities can be further utilised by the party in order to support the party in a stronger way,” Toppin said. She maintained that it was the action groups of the party who selected and nomination the members of her team in the election.
Toppin told Tobago News, she found the Executive was not up to the task that we was before it. “I thought that all along, I thought that more than a year now,” she remarked. It was on this premise that she agreed to lead a team to ‘give the party a better chance moving forward’.
Toppin, who presently holds the position of Minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development, expressed confidence that she can be a productive party chairman. “I think I have the ability to be party chairman and to be very productive and to be very decisive and insightful and able to carry the burden,” Toppin said.
Toppin’s relationship with political leader Ashworth Jack has always been questioned, with some speculating that this turbulent relationship would have been the basis of the prime minister’s decision to move her from the Ministry of Tobago Development. The Member of Parliament however, adamantly disagreed with this perspective. “I have never had a bad relationship with the leader of the TOP.
I have always supported him. I have never disrespected him or purported to prefer that he would not be the leader,” the minister reiterated. “Our leader chooses his alliances, so it’s not that we have an antagonistic relationship, we have a leader/subordinate relationship,” she continued. As for her association with Coker, Toppin described it as ‘a working relationship’.
“We have hard work ahead of us. We just have to bring all our strengths together to come up with winning strategies. There are areas in Tobago that we can concentrate on to make a huge impact. We are poised to dominate,” she stated.
She is optimistic that she is the better individual for the job, touting her experience in parliament, locally and internationally. “I can articulate the policies, programmes and practices of the TOP. I am a Member of Parliament. I have an international experience dealing with people and negotiating. I have national and regional experience, 18 years as a university lecturer and over 40 years as a teacher. I am a politician in the true sense of the word. I can match my counterparts in Trinidad, I know I can match them academically and other wise. This should increase my appeal to the membership,” she articulated.