Side by side and together, not one behind the other,” was the promise of hope held out by the People’s Partnership Government to Tobago when it rolled into office on May 24, 2010, signalling the intent of a more equal relationship between both islands, built on mutual respect.
Page 63 of its Prosperity for All Manifesto 2010 was clear in its mandate about the kind of relationship it wanted to forge with Tobago, one in which “the people of Tobago would have a major role in determining their present and future development”.
The manifesto, which would have got the blessings of alliance member the Tobago Organisation of the People’s (TOP) Ashworth Jack, a frontline advocate for greater autonomy for Tobago, went a step further and promised to “revisit the provisions of the Tobago House of Assembly Act, and in particular, the Fifth Schedule with a view to granting greater autonomy and responsibility to the people of Tobago over matters that directly impact on Tobago”.
From May 2010 onward, Jack, whose party won the two Tobago seats, quickly became the Partnership’s bridge for unity between the central government and Tobago —a position, it could be argued, that seemed to assume more political importance to the Government, than the Assembly or its Chief Secretary Orville London.
In fact, London constantly complained about a lack of respect shown to his administration, which he felt was being sidelined by the current Government.
That was until January this year, when the TOP was obliterated by the People’s National Movement (PNM) at the polls 12-nil, with Jack also losing his own Mason Hall/Providence/Moriah seat and his prominence in the alliance.
Now, five months later, little is heard from Jack, whose own integrity had come under scrutiny in the lead-up to the elections, after questions were raised about who funded his multi-million-dollar house in Tobago, on lands which, at the time, he did not fully own.
Jack has vehemently denied his mansion was built by United National Congress (UNC) party financiers, but to this day, has failed to silence his critics
In the aftermath of Jack’s demise and, by extension, the People’s Partnership’s inability to win the THA elections, the relationship between the THA and the Partnership cooled even further.
Chief Secretary London told the Sunday Express recently, “It has deteriorated and from almost every aspect has regressed.”
“Disappointment and frustration” are the two words he used to describe it.
London said he had hoped even though the PNM had lost the general election in 2010, the Partnership would have nurtured a kind relationship that was in sync with its election promises and manifesto.
“More so because the People’s Partnership Government won both Tobago seats and the two MPs had actually campaigned on the basis of championing the Tobago cause, but over the last three years, I think that most Tobagonians would agree the situation from almost every aspect has regressed.
“What is most alarming is that some of the fundamental tenets that should underpin the authority of THA have been threatened and eroded in a manner unparalleled between two institutions,” he said, admitting there has always been tension between central government and the THA. But for the most part, he said the THA was maintained and respected.
London pointed to systematic attempts by the Partnership to undermine the authority of the THA and frustrate works of the institutions and those charged with the responsibilities for Tobago
“In the early years, there was almost a contempt for the Assembly and its officials, evidenced in a number of ways, including the moves by some ministers to introduce policies and programmes in Tobago without meaningful interaction with the THA.
“As well there were a number of things which Tobagonians fought hard for, including representation on boards, etc, which have been eroded, and I don’t think that central government was sensitive to these things.
“The people’s frustration grew and the results were shown in the election. Even the campaign itself was an obscene, blatant attempt to buy support in Tobago.
“Tobago people rejected this, of course. I would have thought that after this a greater effort would have been made for collaboration and a greater degree of synergy, but this is not the case.”
London said while some ministers were making an effort, for the most part, the fundamentals have not changed.
“The most obvious is the way in which they would have dealt with question of internal self-government,” he said.
“Tobagonians have made their intent known to the Cabinet. They are aware that central government came up with their own bill for Cabinet for debate and that the Opposition and the THA and Tobagonians have voiced their concerns over this and against certain clauses in the bill.
The issue of internal government was the most important issue in the entire campaign, which even the Prime Minister referred to as a referendum on her leadership and that of the Government.”
London said he found it quite “disturbing” that the Prime Minister was now saying internal self-government was now being taken up by the constitutional reform exercise, spearheaded by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar.
“We see this as a betrayal. After all the work done, not just by the THA but by a team set up by the Prime Minister, after there has been so much agreement on most of the issues of greater autonomy for Tobago, and after so much pre-election hype, we are now going to get involved in a very unpredictable process of constitutional reform.
“I have asked for the two teams to meet and for there to be some kind of consensus, so that when the matter reaches the Parliament, the debate would be amenable to a resolution,” he said, adding that he is yet to receive a response.
London is fearful that the issue would collapse into a process that has no predictable end to it.
Adding he is no “pessimist”, London reiterated there are some ministers and Government officials who are relating to the THA in a manner that is allowing the objectives to be achieved.
“I want to suggest that there is still time to do necessary introspection and take action to review the present relationship. I am heartened by the Prime Minister’s acceptance of my recommendation for quarterly meetings. I intend to write to her within the week, requesting a date for the next meeting and setting out those issues which I consider critical.
“The Minister of Finance has spoken to me about a meeting to discuss issues about tourism; and there have been meetings between some of the secretaries and ministers of Housing and Tourism, so I believe that there is the opportunity for improved relations over the next couple of years,” he said.
London pointed out that consecutive administrations have discriminated against the THA in the past, but feels “we have an opportunity now to go down in history as the administration that has brought to the people, the type of relationship for which they have been striving for years.
“I want to have a relationship that is not adversarial. We will always be political rivals, but there is a lot of room for meaningful collaboration.”
He added, “After three years, we are nowhere close to that because there is still the perception that the THA must be kept in its place, and once that is the perception on the part of so many decision makers at national level, this promise of ‘side by side’ is just another platitude.”
The term so far...
• The first “misstep” was the Prime Minister’s appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine to head the Security Intelligence Agency.
• Ill-conceived state of emergency.
• Two Cabinet reshuffles in three years.
• Firing of six ministers—May King, Minister of Planning; Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis; Colin Partap, Minister in the Ministry of National Security; Herbert Volney, Minister of Justice; Nan Ramgoolam, Minister of Public Administration; John Sandy, Minister of National Security; Verna St Rose Greaves, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development; Minister in the Minister of National Security Subhas Panday.
• Minister of National Security and Chairman of the UNC Jack Warner resigns from the party and his Chaguanas West seat.
• PM faces vote of no confidence.
• AG faces vote of no confidence.
• ...Now the People’s Partnership Government to face vote of no confidence.
• MSJ breaks with the party.
• COP continues to grumble.
• Crime continues to rock T&T.
• Section 34 fiasco caused a Round Table arrangement between opposing forces: PNM, labour, NGOs.
• Government faced crushing defeat at the polls in the THA elections.
• Tobago and PP Government still on shaky ground over self-government.
• By-election in Chaguanas West seat
• Local Government elections due before or by October 2013
• At times, rocky media relations.