Tag Archives: THA

All in One: A Political cook up, Tobago Style

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As we approach the 2015 General Election Tobago and the Tobago House of Assembly would play a critical role.  There are so many pressing issues relating to Tobago that would highlight the campaign that the nation must play careful attention to.  Recently the Ground Report did several morning programmes in Tobago and many issues came to the forefront, voiced by Tobagonians about the current state of affairs in Tobago under the tenure of the Chief Secretary Orville London since 2001 and the People’s National Movement.    We will begin to examine some of these issues as they relate to Tobago and its development.

These issues affecting Tobago are not disconnected from each other and it is the reason why I can this first commentary, All in One – a popular Tobago Dish, what you have you just throw it in the pot and cook it up.   While reading keeping this concept in mind because everything is in an all in one dish, so while it appears that I might go off in some directions, whatever is in the all in one in essential to understanding the complexity of the dish, therefore one can see the connection of all the issues and how they are interrelated.

We will begin with human capital because it is the most valuable asset in any society.   The foundation of human capital development is education.   Despite the presence of more secondary schools on the island, comparatively there has been less education on the island.   Tobago once prided itself where some of the most outstanding and educated citizens came from Tobago and competed at the highest levels.   That generation is disappearing.

Less than 40% of students leave the secondary schools with more 5 or more subjects.   This is the beginning of the pipeline of dependency that is systematically exploited politically.   There are no sustainable jobs because major industries that once held commercial value are struggling or have been abandoned, respectively tourism and agriculture.

There are an interconnectedness among education, the naturally available industries, and development outcomes.    These are the factors that creates the foundation for strong economic growth but there is more than a disconnect between all and it appears that the Tobago House of Assembly and some people in Trinidad and Tobago cannot connect these for the shaping of effective policies for better and sustained outcomes.

I am going to try to break this down as simple as possible, with the claim that Tobago does not have the capacity to feed itself.  It once did.

While you would never starve in Tobago because of the wide variety of fruits and other things that naturally grow without systematic cultivation, like green bananas and bhagi.  You can catch a yardie, to dig up some provision from a small dasheen patch, lend hand in siene pulling for some greenback and jacks and still don’t have to go to the supermarket.  So while eating this way requires some resourcefulness if one lives alone, getting something to eat is relatively easy especially.   Additionally, in Tobago, some granny, mommy or tanty is almost always around and food is always available.   I write like this to demonstrate what I saw with my own eyes during the time I spent in Tobago of how people live, survive and support each other.  They are the collective experiences of people I know that are repeated in village and after village only with the people changing but in essence the issues are the same.  People generally live well with each other and the spirit of sharing and hospitality remains

Despite the fact you would not starve, a major segment of young people who have left the secondary schools without the necessary qualifications to get long term sustaining jobs and end up on make work programmes such as URP and CEPEP are on the brink of poverty.  These are the individuals who not only depend on the government but also on the generosity and kindness of family even though granny have to spend the old age pension to feed some grandchildren and at times their children.    Mind you, everyone might be working dong a little “morning wuk” but money from that job is not enough for oneself, so where one can get free food all the time one will take advantage of this, instead of contributing money for groceries at home.   That little relief money becomes pocket change to buy credit for phone, alcohol, and cigarettes but it is not nearly enough to do anything substantial.

Tobagonians pay more when they go to the supermarkets compared to Trinidadians.    Tobago’s food import bill is out of control and this is where we must begin to connect the dots with the everyday realities of some people with policy making decisions and outcomes.    The things we are capably of cultivating in Tobago we are importing them.    This was never the case.   The capacity to produce our own food is essential to future development outcomes.

When the earning potential of a wide cross-section of your population is capped (those who cannot find jobs without 5 subjects) what is socially constructed and ultimately reproduced is an underclass, an almost permanent one.  This is why education has the greatest capacity to break and permanently disrupt cycles of poverty.

The high agricultural output of the past is very low.   The Scarborough Market which received a great deal of commentary during the morning programmes by the Ground Report is enough evidence about the state of agriculture.  Markets are the central hubs of commerce and the food culture of a people.  The market in any city or town allows you to encounter real people and tourists flocks for authentic experiences.    I have visited markets in Africa, Europe, Mexico and other Caribbean Islands, and if not for the tourists, for the vendors then the people they prevent from starving deserve a better market in Tobago.   The working conditions for these vendor are deplorable and the market is shameful to look upon.   It is a turnoff for tourists whose cruise ships docks a few yards away on the port but even more repulsive for locals who enter when need dictates.

Our vendors however should be commended because they are vital to keeping us alive.  Despite the added cost most get their products from Trinidad.  So the items once cultivated in Tobago are now commodities coming from Trinidad and elsewhere.    It is possible that the quantity of ground provisions, peas, peppers, and the myriads of things we import that can be grown in Tobago be slashed by 20 to 30 percent.

When a significant workforce such as CEPEP and URP workers are engaged in tasks below their human potential and their real earning capacity is not utilized for self-growth, it shows the lack of innovative and effective policies.   Agriculture and downstream agribusiness have tremendous potential to assist in the awakening of Tobago’s dormant economy.   When money is set aside for relief programmes, less is allocated towards other development needs.   This is not an attempt to pick on the “underprivileged” but it is intended to demonstrate that the poverty and dependency syndrome is created and fueled by failed cyclical policies.

 

 

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Tobago Carnival 2014, its a wrap: postmortem talks

While I was not in Tobago for Carnival 2014, social media comments and the morning call-in show on Radio Tambrin provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about what happened.   All this evidence is important and those in charge of Carnival should have a listening ear with hopes of improving the Carnival Season in the near future.

Approximately TTD$9 million was spent on Tobago’s Carnival in 2014.    While it is the expectation of many Tobagonians that the Tobago House of Assembly contribute significantly to the Carnival Season, it is also important that the people know where their monies go.    After a transfer of cash from the THA in such large proportions it is only right that the people know who benefits.   This adds to any government’s record of credibility, good governance, accountability and transparency.

There is little to no evidence that documents Tobago’s Carnival as a revenue-generating event Tobago House of Assembly.  What percentage of the investment is recuperated and put directly back into the coffers of the Assembly?  While individuals such as the food vendors, the lady selling souse, and the guy who owns a bar will make some money during the season especially on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, this is money coming directly from pockets of Tobagonians into these small business owners and entrepreneurs.

What then happens to the TTD$9 million spent?   Money does not vanish into thin air; it is simply reallocated to finance something else after good and services were provided.   We know that some of the money would to things like prizes, equipment rental such as stages, sound, lighting, chairs and some to bandleaders to help them with costumes.   Those responsible for planning the season and dispensing public resources should account annually as to where the money goes but go beyond a financial report to a comprehensive report of the happenings of the entire season.     If we are to move beyond the ‘eat ah food’ mentality that has negatively plagued the island, the appropriate policies will be develop to ensure a carnival season we all can enjoy.

Such a report, if done correctly will highlight where the mistakes were made and make recommendations that will be implemented.    However, there is a need for individuals with competence that will examine what happened with ‘critical eyes’ and not ‘eyes for criticism.’  Tobago as a whole can benefit from this but all too often our judgments are clouded by party politics to the detriment of our overall society.

A significant portion of the population claims that they are excluded stating that their ideas are not welcomed at the table.  If any society intends to develop beyond its current capacity it must fully utilize its human resources, bringing critical minds to the table, to effectively plan and execute something of substance, worth and value.     No single idea is better than an idea that is built upon by others and thoroughly evaluated for faults before execution.

No one should ever question the loyal of Tobagonians to their island whether they reside in Tobago, Trinidad, New York, Miami, London or where ever they choose to live.   Our small population will have political differences but we must never allow this to delay or destroy the development agenda.     Our destinies are so intertwined that we should never allow divisions (not differences) to fester or allow a small group of people to dominate, creating an oligarchy as opposed to a democracy.

Lastly, a word on planning.   Effective planning takes time.  The planning for Carnival 2015 should begin tomorrow after one day of rest.    The Carnival fraternity must also do more and not wait on the THA to make funding moves.   They are ones who should be front and center leading the charge for a season that engages us culturally so a good time can be had by all.

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The Political Callaloo of ‘Internal-Self-Government’

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Callaloo is a complex dish and there are many variations of this popular Trinibagonian dish.   It probably can be argued that every household has their own special twist on callaloo.   One of the final steps in making callaloo is to put it in the blender and mix it all up.  Cooking callaloo is the backdrop of our discussion today because as the debate over Tobago’s Internal Self-Government continues, it is clear that the process is rather complex, much like the dish of callaloo.   

The Ingredients

  1. The PNM
    1. The Executive Council
    2. The Chief Secretary
    3. The THA
    4. PNM Tobago Council
    5. As the National Opposition
    6. All Others
      1. The TOP
      2. Two Tobago Seats, Tobago East/Tobago West
      3. The Prime Minister
      4. TOP Island Council
      5. The Ministry of Tobago Development (MTD)
      6. The People Partnership (PP)
      7. The Platform for Truth (TPT)
      8. The Movement for Democracy & Development (MDD)
      9. Independent Liberal Party (ILP-Tobago)

With all these players and their relationship, it is no wonder why Internal Self Government for Tobago is a complicated matter.   I will try present an overview of the matter as it relates to the different entities.   Furthermore, it will be analyzed against the backdrop of a pending 2015 general election and the recent reports of the Constitution Commission.     

  1. The PNM as a political party is in government in Tobago but they are the national opposition.  The party rebounded significantly in 2013 with victories in Tobago and St. Joseph including major pickups in the local government elections in Trinidad.   The clean sweep in THA puts the two Tobago seats into play, and if the Tobago Council can deliver this in 2015 it would mean less work for the PNM in Trinidad in those marginal constituencies.     
    1. The Executive Council – Tobago’s steering committee headed by the Chief Secretary and inclusive of other THA Secretaries, whether elected or appointed.  Similar to the cabinet.  
    2. The Chief Secretary (Orville London) – In what appears to be a complete turnaround, he has led the call for Tobago’s autonomy after the 2013 election.   
    3. The THA – The “State” operates under Tobago House of Assembly Act 1996.    The Act does not give Tobago legislative capacity, merely “oversight” capacity.    
    4. PNM Tobago Council – The Tobago arm of the national PNM.  Established in 1998, the PNM made it presence known in Tobago during the first decade of 21st century remaining in control of the THA.
    5. PNM (as the National Opposition) – 2013 was an upward year for the PNM as the National Opposition.   The party has a predominantly African base and shows no intention that it is open to coalition politics, evident by statements such as “we will win alone, we will lose alone.”  How likely it is for the PNM to gain national power depends efforts to rebrand the image of the party as inclusive and that of its current leader who in the words of his former leader “is out of control” and when opposed “becomes like a raging bull.” 

As it relates to the national PNM and Tobago’s Autonomy there is no clear clarion sound.    The Tobago PNM Council, the Executive Council, the Chief Secretary are for self-government in principle, like all other stakeholders who reached that obvious conclusion.    The “how” of self-government is something the party has not clearly articulated and questions are being raised by the other players about their genuine interest in the process and whether or not it’s political gamesmanship for the 2015 general elections? 

  • MDD takes a position that the Chief Secretary is setting up Tobago for a refusal by the Central Government to move the process forward so that he can go to Tobagonians in 2015 to say that the Central Government doesn’t want to give Tobago full autonomy. He is of the belief that Tobagonians will then vote the PNM back into power in Tobago. Full autonomy for Tobago is a no-no from the PNM, Rowley or whoever else is in charge; so Tobagonians need to tell the Chief Secretary in no uncertain terms to stop trying to fool Tobagonians yet again. Today, even the Central Government has realized the monster that has been created in the THA and the Chief Secretary. A dictatorship of the highest order in Tobago. (MDD, from a recent column in Tobago News)
  • “The PNM had said that they will not participate, as much as I would like to see Tobago achieve internal self-governance, my question is exactly what is expected. My only fear is that sometimes I wonder if this isn’t a ploy to get something to speak about for the elections of 2015, that’s my only concern,” says Jack. (Ashworth Jack, TOP Political Leader)

Part II – The Ingredients Continued

  1. All Others 
    1. The TOP – After suffering a humiliating defeat at in 2013 THA polls, the TOP current claim as political force was secured in its 2010 victory of the two Tobago seats in the national parliament.   A partner in the PP government, Tobago is allowed a voice at the cabinet level through the establishment of the Ministry of Tobago Development.
    2. Two Tobago Seats, Tobago East/Tobago West – These two seats in the past have proven to be the makers and breakers of government.    The Tobago electorate is one that gets vex quickly and no part should take these seats for granted.    The TOP will do its utmost best to keep these seats and the PNM will work extra hard to gain control of these two seats.    From the looks of it, the 2015 general election might be a three way race, should the ILP field candidates. 
    3. The Prime Minister – PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar has Tobago on a political time out but this might be all part strategy.  She is aware of the need for those two Tobago seats not necessarily to remain in government, but as a watchdog if nothing else on the Assembly.   She has others to do her bidding in Tobago and National Constitution Reform by no means is higher on her agenda.  
    4. TOP Island Council – A council in chaos.   The Council must resolve it leadership crisis or be outplayed by the ILP, to the liking of the PNM.  Political Leader Ashworth Jack is facing a battle within the party from an internal pressure group, Forward Movement.   At the helm of this charge is Dr. Baker, Anslem Richards, along with the support of the former Minister of Justice Christlyn Moore.  The TOP has to worry about the split vote factor with the presence of the ILP because the core of ILP supporters in Tobago are former TOP members/voters.  
    5. The Ministry of Tobago Development (MTD) – The successor of the once Ministry of Tobago Affairs (that was shut down by Eric Williams). The MTD led by Dr. Baker is the presence of the Central Government in Tobago.  Deemed obstructionist by the THA, there is constant turf battles between both entities.    Should the PNM win at the polls in 2015, the life of MTD is jeopardy whereby the plug is more than likely to be pulled by Rowley.   MTD however has sought to define itself, namely pushing for Integrated Campus in Tobago East and making available resources to community based organizations bringing the resources of the central government directly to Tobago.  
    6. The People Partnership (PP) — The current government, and unlike the PNM has embraced coalition politics, comprising of several parties, inclusive of the UNC, COP, the TOP and NJAC.  On its 4th year in power, 2013 saw a string of defeats of partnership along with a variety of issues that have plagued the government since its inception.    The party maintains its regional ethnic Indian base in south-central Trinidad but if one should trace the historically underpinnings and beginnings, even under the leadership of Basdeo Panday in the 1970’s (as Opposition Leader to Eric Williams) in a former incarnation as the United Labour Front, there were efforts to unite the races in the form of a “workers struggle.”  When asked if sugar (Indian) and oil (black) can mix, Panday said yes, “it makes sweet oil.”       
    7. The Platform for Truth (TPT) – Under of the leadership of former Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles, the party claims to be the only authentic Tobago party.   A breakaway from the TOP, Charles is an unrepentant advocate for Tobago’s autonomy and despite little chances of future political success; the TPT seeks to remain relevant in ongoing debates about Tobago’s future.        
    8. The Movement for Democracy & Development (MDD) — The MDD has positioned itself in the politics as an “intellectual” movement.    Though they fielded no candidates in the 2013 THA Elections, they campaigned against the Tobago Bill piloted by the Prime Minster, especially for more nautical miles.  The evangelist of this movement, Dr. Vanus James estimated the GDP of Tobago to be TTD $17 Billion by 2017 should oil and natural gas be exploited off Tobago’s coast.  According to the MDD  “MDD believes that the most pressing problem facing Tobago is the lack of a mechanism to provide oversight by the residents of Tobago to control the Chief Secretary’s actions so that when the executive acts, it does so in accordance with the will of the people of Tobago” (From MDD Column in Tobago News).  
    9. Independent Liberal Party (ILP-Tobago) – Simply put it, the ILP wants in.    Despite being less than one year, the ILP gained one seat in the Parliament.   Jack Warner left government, went back to the polls, amidst corruption allegations and this early success the party is seeking to emerge as the “third force” to replace to COP.    The ILP fever spread to Tobago and Lionel Coker’s departure from the TOP sought to seek new political grazing grounds.  All indications show that the ILP is preparing for electoral runs in Tobago.  Recent meetings in Tobago with Warner at the helm, the appointment of Shadow THA Secretaries and calls to be included in the self-government talks are no doubts that the ILP wants in.  Warner recently accused both the THA and the PP government for “gang raping” the treasury.   

 

The fact of the matter is Internal Self Government is a highly complicated matter.   While there are calls for a “One Voice Tobago Approach” the web of alliances and future political gains or losses for all involved makes its worse than putting callaloo in a blender.    

Major Highlights of Proposed Constitutional Changes

 

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The Trinidad and Tobago Constitution Reform Commission released its report dated December 27, 2013 into the public domain.   Launched on March 2, 2013, the Commission held 17 public consultations including two in Tobago.  Citizens also had the option of submitting their comments online.    The report included several recommendations which are currently being discussed by the cabinet.   Further consultations will be held in February now that the report has released.  

Elected Executive Senate & House of Representatives Committee System

One significant recommendation is an elected Senate.    According to the report, all cabinet ministers will be members of a Senate that is elected by proportional representation using the Hare model.  Given this, the recommendations stated that the elected executive senate will increase in numbers to 41 mirroring the current House of Representatives.    The House of Representatives will be equal in power to the Senate; however, the House of Representatives will comprise of members whose main purpose is to provide representation for their constituencies.  Their roles will be enhanced as legislators and committee members that will scrutinize the decisions of the cabinet.  The report advocates for a strong committee system in the House of Representatives, which is a feature of the “Washington” model that creates new hybrid political system.   

Two votes

Citizens will now be empowered with two votes.   A vote for their MP as we currently know it, and a vote for a party list of pre-determined Senators.   Citizens will be able to split their votes which can possibly create a situation where the Senate and the House of Representatives is controlled by different political parties/coalitions.  According to the report, this hybridity will allow for continuity of government but create changes that will allow the political culture to evolve beyond its current adversarial nature and move towards consensus building and power-sharing. 

Recall and Referendums

The right to recall a member of the House of Representatives was also a recommendation.  Accompanied by a call for fixed election dates, a recall can happen after the third year but not during the fifth.  A petition inclusive of signatures of two-thirds of those who voted in the previous election within a constituency initiates a recall.   Another major proposal was the putting to national vote major policy decisions of government might seek to undertake.  

Political Culture

An entire chapter of the report was devoted to effects of these changes on the overall political culture. It states, “The reality is that Trinidad and Tobago needs to enjoy prolonged political stability with a new political culture that will transform the zero-sum game of the Westminster-style model into a culture of scrutiny, transparency and oversight.”  

While space does not permit us to mention every single detail from the report, recommendations were also provided for the Judiciary and the Public Service Commission in an effort to modernize these national institutions.     The Commission commends the report to the people and the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago for continued deliberations to chart a way forward.  

Think Hard and Learn to Juggle

 

With news of a pending shake up of THA Secretaries we will turn our attention to issues that should be addressed and discussed in a constructive manner.   We will begin first by addressing the Division of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports.    Forgetting some of the troubling news that have plagued DEYAS from leadership down, the new Secretary and his or her assistant will have their work cut out for them.   

DEYAS must repair its tarnished reputation and the Division must truly aim to become to center of educational affairs in Tobago that supports schools, principals, teachers and students.  Despite all, in all departments within DEYAS, there are incredible and talented individuals, but morale has sunk to all time low.   This trickles down affecting employees who in turn cannot provide the support our schools need.      

 

Improving educational systems and producing lasting reforms requires work.   DEYAS must demonstrate its capacity as an educational central office capable of producing real-time data on any student in Tobago at any given time.  Should this be a goal, it has the potential to focus the work of Division, create new knowledge and data about learners that will influence the formation of new policies and improved educational outcomes.  

 

Often many students are dismissed for “dunce” given a variety of factors or certain knowledge of their social circumstances and backgrounds.    In days gone by, the marker was passing the Common Entrance exams, but with almost two decades with guaranteed secondary education, and even greater access to tertiary education the outcomes should resonate stronger.   Are they?  For development, they must.   

 

For teachers to be responsive to the needs to leaners they need real time data to make decisions.   While a coordinated effort is required this information will allow us to support schools and directly support students.    What is needed is a mandate by the policymakers, commitment by the public servants, effective communication with the principals/teachers and engagement of those capable of doing the work.  A team will be required to collect, evaluate, and analyze data.   Reports should be created from the data to support intervention strategies.  Evidently, this will be aligned to major curriculum benchmarks for all students across the subject areas which in turn will require a different instructional approach.   

 

Reforms mean change and change is exactly what is needed for improved educational outcomes.    We must set up our students for success because they are important stakeholders for Tobago’s development.  If we want individuals who will actively contribute to the development of a society at this critical stage, robust interventions are required that will identify and fix problems before they morph into a crisis.  

 

This effort should not be disconnected from related youth and sporting initiatives.    Whether it is the establishment of after school academic programs for students, weekend classes, academic tournaments and competitions the impact would be significant and should produce improved outcomes.   

 

While there is a long list of issues that must addressed regarding educational policies in Tobago for improved outcomes the new Secretary must think hard and learn to juggle.   

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A Reporter’s Notebook: One Year Later, Ohhhhhhhh……PNM Coming, but we Voting TOP.

Motorcade day, the day before the election, I stayed in Charlotteville.  I went down the road to get pictures.    The PNM came in first.   Much of their motorcade was unable to make their way into the village.  For the first time during the election I decided to put on a jersey.      In fact, I realized wearing a jersey wasn’t that much of a big deal in Charlotteville because people had both, and some had green, for TPT, traffic light politics for real.

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Facebook Status on Election Day before voting

I did not realize the seriousness of Election Day in Tobago.  In fact, my friend sent me back home to change because I was wearing a sleeve less jersey.   There was something solemn almost near holy about being in the line at the school waiting to vote.     After voting, I went down to the bay front to see the vibes of the day, and could not even have a stag because alcohol is not sold on election day.  I tried to get the stain off my fingers from people nearby who had bleach.   I took the bus and journeyed to Delaford to get a photograph of PNM candidate Tracy Davidson-Celestine and wished her all the best before heading back home to Charlotteville.

I had serious conversations in regards to the tone of the campaign with both candidates Davidson-Celestine and Taylor of the TOP.    The tone had taken a rather nasty and personal one and allegations unrelated to the campaign were becoming involved. In two separate conversations I spoke with them because they were both people capable of providing good representation and they earned my respect for their willingness to serve the public.

I worked at the TOP headquarters on election night and it was chaotic.  The numbers were not coming in as fast they were at PNM headquarters and it appeared that there was a breakdown of the TOP ground machine on election night.    In fact, I was giving numbers to the TOP that I was getting from another reporter stationed at the election headquarters.  We expected Groome-Duke’s victory, which was one of the first races in, but when it was becoming evident that during the midpoint of the night that Jack was going down in Mason Hall/Providence compounded by the fact and the TOP incumbent districts were already losing to the PNM.    I knew Jack had lost well before I had the guts to tell Bindley who I was feeding numbers to for the board which was barley updated throughout the night. Taylor appeared to be giving Davidson-Celestine a run in the early numbers, but it soon became clear that she edged him out.

For me, the “Kamla” factor of over involvement in a Tobago election was something I caught onto only in hindsight of the TOP defeat.  In 2010 I did not keep up much with the campaign and at that time the most I understood of Trinidad was killings.  The first female Prime Minster was a historic milestone, and I remembered buying a book about her in airport before one of my frequent flights to New York, to learn about this Kamla.   I did not fall in love with UNC, or the PP, but I still have great admiration and respect for the Prime Minister.   Wrong on plenty things, sometimes a bit suspicious of the people around her, but fpr me seeing her several times during the campaign, at times nightly was like being in history and recording it at the same time.   I took her presence more as a reflection of being in a partnership.   It was politics  and the but the tent just seemed bigger and diverse, especially when coming to race.  The Calcutta statement was a spoiler, the icing on the cake after the phone call to the editor about the controversial story.

I attended the inauguration and it was a very special to go into the Assembly Chamber for the first time, having been in there way before its latest renovation.  At that time William McKenzie was the only PNM Representative.   Nevertheless, a few days later I attended the handing over of appointment instruments by President Richards to the new Assembly members.  It was there the source of the phone call was revealed when the editor saw me chatting with Councillor Dr. Angus and said “y’all made up.” The the puzzle was complete and I was able to connect it back to the phone call about the “supposed controversial story.”  Since then, Dr. Angus and I have had several conversations and cultivated a working relationship that focus on issues while keeping an ongoing open dialogue.   I did express to her that I did not like the campaign the PNM ran, but then again its politics and winning is important.

After the elections I was able to easily communicate with many of the news members because I always had questions which most were good at getting back to me, but especially Hilton Sandy, who never hesitated to return a call, even if it was to say the electricity is going to be back on shortly.

Overall it was a learning experience.  We still have a ways to go, in keeping issues focused, being research and evidence driven, and even though I have yet to see any IDEOLOGICAL differences among the various political parties of Trinidad and Tobago, I have learned, don’t get Tobagonians vex before an election.

Under-utilization of Community Spaces

The Tobago landscape is dotted with community centers and multipurpose facilities and in all fairness the current administration of the THA should be credited for this.     One can easily drive throughout the length and breadth of Tobago to see the presence of community centers; however while buildings are important within communities, the utilization of these community centers to the maximum benefit of the island population must be discussed.

A discussion about community centers must also involve a discussion about village and community councils.    The present functionality of these councils must considered and efforts should be launched within the Division of Community Development and Culture to make current village and community councils relevant.    Furthermore, while village and community councils have been a feature of Tobago life a new brand of legitimacy must be placed on these councils to increase community participation.

My childhood memories of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s are filled with memories of village council, but needless to say that these memories are not the best.  What I want to demonstrate by the example of twenty something years ago is the fact that the same old static systems are in place and people get turned off because they are engaged in other activities of their choosing.   In my conversations regarding village councils with person involved in the executive levels, I expressed to them that village councils have a “power complex” and they are not truly representational of the people within their communities.     In essence, these councils have evolved into clubs and many times there is a perception of a partisan twist which results in non-participation of a large cross section of the local population in any village.

Clearly credit is due to the people who sacrifice their time, their greatest resource to make village and community councils happen.  I am also aware of the tremendous pressure they sometimes place themselves under for their involvement or when a villager for one reason or another “laber their asses with cuss.”   This is the price of leadership at times.

Many of these centers are said to be underutilized but this is perhaps linked to the structure of village and community councils.     The Division of Community Development and Culture and the THA must begin to re-think the way village council and community councils are done for these spaces to be utilized effectively.   This is where the tire hits to road and serious intervention required by the THA.

A look at the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan (CEDP) 2.0, Implementation Plan, Output 2.2 states: “workforce programmes in Tobago restructured to support further development of workers and graduation out of the programmes.”    Specifically, CEPEP and URP employees were the targets of these development programmes.    This is where community centers can be utilized effective.  If our focus is improved capacity and productivity mandates must be given to these workers to improve their overall skills.

The key indicators that create a framework programme for these workers are listed in the CEDP.  Clearly there is a level of cross-divisional implementation necessary here that brings together the seamless coordination of such initiatives.  The argument that there will be resistance by workers should be mitigated by the fact these are temporary jobs and going forward, there is a signed agreement that temporary employment in programs such as URP and CEPEP require participation in workforce development initiatives.