THE EDITOR: The Commonwealth of the Bahamas comprises 700 separate islands; the Republic of the Philippines comprises 7,107 islands; the Hawaiian Islands consist of eight separate islands; 17,000 islands make up the Republic of Indonesia.
We are but two small islands run by a PNM government that never ceases to call for national “unity.” And yet, in the midst of this yearning for oneness, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is suggesting that Tobagonians must be allowed to make law for Tobago. What defines a Tobagonian? Are those people who have moved from Trinidad to Tobago Tobagonians? His utterance is wholly preposterous and ethnically divisive.
Those who wish to change the status quo of the relationship that exists between Trinidad and Tobago insist that there should be “equality” — not “equity” — between both islands. They wish to have the last word on “policy issues” that affect the people of Tobago. Who are “the people of Tobago?” Would such decisions exclude non-Tobago-born people living there? Rowley wants Tobago to be free from Cabinet oversight.
The changes proposed for the Constitution that would allow greater autonomy for Tobago would suggest that a majority of the 60,000 or so people who live there are not at ease with the present arrangement and believe that such changes would redound to an improved quality of life.
My concern is that these calls are coming from a political minority. Should such a call be politically motivated, and not be emanating from the rank and file of the people, then one must explore whether a self-serving utilitarian or partisan rationale exists at the heart of it all.
Before convening any JSC that risks lending legitimacy to a call made by a handful of self-serving politicians who care little for the people of either island, two issues must be first settled. Those who are most strident in their request for Tobago “autonomy” must offer solid objective reasons for wanting to change the status quo by explaining fully how greater Tobago autonomy will achieve significant advancement for that island — and for our country as a whole. Are they concerned with Tobago-born people or all people now living in Tobago?
Only when the people of both islands understand and accept the underlying premise for any such proposal should the ordinary people living and working in Tobago be asked to vote via referendum on this question. One hopes that such a poll would not be reserved solely for native Tobago people.
Even when a majority vote for such change has been achieved among — not only native Tobagonians but all the people who live and work on that island — every amendment must be seen to advance an outcome model that promotes the lives of all citizens of TT as a whole.
If those who are bickering for greater autonomy for Tobago are advancing a plan that focuses exclusively on native Tobago-born people and excludes all people who presently reside on that island who were born in Trinidad, then such a proposal is founded on ethnic division, cultural exclusivity, and xenophobia. Such a proposal has as its hidden agenda the cultural sifting of our people and would only lead to further division and useless ethnic strife.
Rowley’s call to “let Tobagonians make their own laws” is divisive and misguided. Who are the “Tobagonians” who will “make law” for Tobago? Have Tobagonians not been eminent legislators serving both islands? Does he see the corollary need for Trinidadians to make law for Trinidad?
STEVE SMITH via e-mail