Solving the problems facing Tobago will require more of the approach we saw in Monday’s meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Tobago stakeholders. The meeting was not a complaint session but rather an opportunity for partnership and dialogue. That is what devolution should be about.
The Central Government has too often been accused of wielding a big stick over Tobago affairs. As we move to a more autonomous Tobago, it is important that the relationship between both islands be defined by collaboration, not contention. Nowhere is this more needed than in relation to infrastructure development.
Going forward, plans in relation to the Tobago ferry must take heed of the specific needs and concerns of all Tobago stakeholders: business, civil and political. When the State moves forward with its plans to develop ports and to provide new routes for the inter-island ferry service it must also seek out the views of the Tobago interests. It must be acknowledged that Tobago has had a separate history and has a separate culture. Therefore, the island has peculiar needs which must always be catered to.
The Government must ensure the approach taken on Monday is replicated throughout the public sector. We cannot have a repeat of the unilateral decision, taken by Caribbean Airlines Ltd without the input of the Tobago House of Assembly, to change the structure of airline ticket charges. The Cabinet would do well to ensure all State enterprises, and not just government ministries, are aware of the special sensitivity needed in matters relating to the island.
There have been reports from stakeholders that the turmoil relating to the fast ferry has damaged the tourism industry. Such an outcome was only inevitable. If Tobago is to be able to stand on its own two feet, it must have a greater role in matters that affect its economic viability.
For now, it is to the entire country’s detriment that trade in the tourism sector is reportedly down. A comprehensive analysis must be done of the industry to determine, in an empirical manner, whether in fact revenues in the industry have fallen and the reason.
It cannot be forgotten that Tobago is also experiencing unprecedented levels of crime, a matter which poses a clear and present danger to the industry. The declaration of a limited State of emergency in Jamaica should teach us a lesson in that regard. If we fail to nip the crime issue in the bud it could have a ricochet effect.
Tobago is poised to play an even greater role in Trinidad and Tobago’s overall destiny. For that to happen, however, both islands must truly come together.