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Sunday 22 October 2017
Commentary

A vision for life without a ferry

Passengers endure a long wait at the Tobago ferry terminal in Port of Spain.

The events surrounding the ferry fiasco have brought on a feeling of dejection and hopelessness among many Tobagonians.

We feel as if our prospects for growth on the island have been set back a million years. The fact that this situation was inflicted on the island by a government headed by a son of Tobago depresses us even further.

What social and economic progress can Tobago look forward to now with the massive losses being incurred daily, by almost everyone on the island - from hoteliers, to vendors, to professionals to taxi drivers – everywhere things keep getting worse and worse. Our misery grows each passing day because we do not see a speedy solution in sight – no proper cargo and passenger ferry on the horizon, and moreso no compensation for all the losses that all of us are incurring.

Over the last five months we, Tobagonians have had to face the fact, for the first time in all our lifetime, that we cannot count on a daily ferry service bringing in goods and taking us to Trinidad to conduct our business. For as far back as the majority of us can remember a boat has always arrived in and taken off from Tobago, on a daily basis – even thrice per day in recent years. We just took it for granted that a boat was available to us everyday… just get a ticket and things are on track. Never did we foresee that a day such as this would ever come.

The question is what are we in Tobago to do now because we are all adversely affected in so many ways. The ferry fiasco and the lack of a solution changes things drastically for us as it goes to the very core of our existence as Tobagonians. It is already impacting our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. The ferry is our lifeline in more ways than one.

Things are compounded by the fact that all our representatives who fought so hard to represent us in the THA and the Parliament are silent about the fiasco. Not a word to us, not a consultation to get our views, no leadership... not a nothing. That is what bothers me most of all, their allegiance to a political party has completely trumped the interest of Tobago… so for them, its stay quiet and hope that it goes away.

So we in Tobago have to grow up fast and make some far-reaching decisions on the way forward. It is not just about talking, quarrelling, protesting or swimming.

First of all, we in Tobago have to decide how mad are we about the ferry fiasco. Is it that we intend to stay silent and let a few carry the burden of speaking out? Is it only the dramatics like ‘Watson swimming’– where we see ourselves as spectators - that we prepared to show up for? Like an exciting Carnival lime? Remember when Watson Duke called us out to march a few weeks ago only a handful was there.

Second, are we in Tobago satisfied to ride out this problem until the next due election date. Or a we going to demand that we go back to the polls in the hope that credible alternatives to the present representatives would emerge. In other words, are Tobagonians going to find their voices to say at last that enough is enough. Or will we continue to suffocate ourselves under the PNM ‘til ah dead’ routine. Even PNM people no longer believe that the party can bring solutions to the problems any more. They just hanging on for … so.

Also, are Tobagonians at last going to demand of our opposition forces here on the island that they band us together in a dynamic united group and disassociate ourselves from all Trinidad-based political parties? You see I am arguing that the time is now for a serious vision to be mapped out for us in Tobago. None of the two existing national parties can or will do it.

For instance, I am saying that at the same time that this PNM government was dropping the ball on the Tobago ferry, if the opposition parties were concerned about us they would have been vocal in sounding the alarm about it. They should have been pointing out the problem and that there is trouble ahead for Tobago. It was an ideal subject for a motion of urgent public importance in the Parliament. That is what happens when an opposition cares about people and what is happening to them.

So we have to accept that none of the two parties cares one hoot about us. I don’t have to remind us that the THA itself has also failed us at our greatest hour of need. It was created to do exactly what it did not do in this ferry issue …. Sound the alarm and demand a solution well in advance, not stay dumb! The recent refusal of our Chief Secretary and his Secretary for Agriculture to go before the JSC and the reasons advanced is so laughable and ridiculous that it fit for inclusion in my book of sweet jokes! They have all failed Tobago … failed badly.

So where do we go from here folks? For starters, the Port Authority has publicly invited tenders for the Supply of a Roll On/Roll Off Passenger Fast Ferry on a Two Year Time Charter. The deadline for submission of tenders is September 20. I am thinking that the Chamber of Commerce, the Truckers and the Tobago House of Assembly either together or individually ought to move swiftly to identify reputable suppliers in Europe and wherever and urge them to submit tenders. Do your research now and get a good operator or two to apply. That is the first step to Tobago’s maturity. We must play a role in this process.

If we truly love this piece of island and are concerned about our welfare and that of our children, we the people of Tobago and our Assembly have to intervene and not continue to stay on the sidelines, like if we are spectators. The time is now for our young leaders and older heads, too, to stand up and declare that Tobago needs a new vision for survival. A vision which reduces dependency on the ferry service from Trinidad. A vision which allows the island to continue to operate efficiently - ferry or no ferry. A vision for true and practical self-dependence for a change.

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