THE EDITOR: It has been announced that a bill granting greater autonomy to Tobago is to be introduced in the House of Representative shortly. The matter of greater autonomy for Tobago has been a bone of contention since the “amalgamation” of Tobago to Trinidad in 1888 by the 1887 Act of Union of the British Parliament.
However, the only concrete action taken, in this regard, has been enactment of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act by our own Parliament in 1996, which not only re-established the ancient assembly but granted to the THA some powers which had hitherto been the complete preserve of the central government in Port of Spain.
It is clear that Tobago was a prized jewel which was even a part of the British-administered Windward Islands group along with St Vincent and Grenada.
However, it is also clear that the abolition of the slave trade and the wavering fortunes of “king sugarcane” were to lead to a collapse of Tobago’s economy, to the extent that Tobago was unable to meet the cost of being governed as a separate entity and hence a decision of the British Government to “amalgamate” Tobago with Trinidad, thereby applying the laws of Trinidad to Tobago and the complete loss of autonomy by Tobago.
There is no doubt that the loss of autonomy by Tobago has resulted in a loss of self-respect by and for Tobagonians as well as several negative “side-effects,” some of which may be evident from the following:
1. Could it have been that a culture of “real” dependency took its root with the “amalgamation?”
2. The void left by the departure of the “massas” has never been filled by a truly rooted indigenous entrepreneurial class.
3. What may be termed the “business community” in Tobago has contributed to the dependency of Tobago on Trinidad by being, for the most part, commission agents and distributors of goods which reach Tobago via sources in Trinidad.
4. Decline of the agriculture sector has resulted in a failure of Tobagonians to provide themselves with foodstuff which, at one time, they even used to ship to Trinidad.
5. Allied to item 4 is a failure of Tobagonians to strike out for the island by itself, a clear path in the development of the island’s tourism and a Tobago-based small manufacturing and haberdashery sector.
6. In light of the constant depressed state of the island’s economy, the “emigration” of better educated Tobagonians to Trinidad and elsewhere and the attraction of government programmes which are today revealed in the form of the URP and the CEPEP.
Can the granting of greater autonomy, by itself, result in the development of a culture of entrepreneurial thrust in Tobago? Time will tell.
ERROL OC CUPID