Why is Tobago so heavily dependent on Trinidad? That is the fundamental question that must be addressed amid fresh attempts by Government to bring autonomy to the island, says President of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Claude Benoit.
“The two islands come under one administration and anything basically that we want to do in Tobago, we have to go to Trinidad to get that or we have to get permission from Trinidad to do it,” he said in a Sunday Newsday interview on May 4.
“So, that is the level of control from Trinidad you are talking about. You can interchange the role, call it control, dependency or rule.
“But, one must understand that from a Tobago perspective, when we want certain things to happen, we can’t just do it for ourselves. We have to get permission from Trinidad.”
Benoit, who replaced Demi-John Cruickshank as the chamber’s president on March 19, used the recent sea bridge fiasco as an example.
“Tobago is suffering from it but the solution is in Trinidad. We have to go to Trinidad to get them to solve it. You have to go to the minister and Prime Minister to solve the sea bridge problem.”
Benoit said while the fiasco was a major setback for Tobagonians and business owners on the island and must be addressed frontally, greater attention must be paid to its dependence on Trinidad.
He said low productivity on the island also must be tackled.
Benoit, who is the managing director of Tobago Channel 5, contends there were many issues affecting the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago, which has placed the latter in a state of dependence.
“If we have to export anything, we can’t export it from Tobago. We have to go to Trinidad and then export it. If things coming to Tobago, things can’t come directly to Tobago. You have to go to Trinidad and then come to Tobago.
“There is no level of wanting to do things. Let’s say you have a factory and you start manufacturing stuff and you want to send it out. You can’t do that. The relationship was designed in such a way that Tobago will remain a dependent entity of Trinidad.”
International flights, he said, also posed a challenge.
“Our international airport is international, yes, but international from the perspective that one flight from London may land here and one flight from New York may land here.
“But, if I want to go to Toronto or any other place, I have to head to Trinidad. That is from the travelling standpoint. Just think about goods and services, if I want to buy and import anything, nothing comes directly here, it goes to Trinidad and then comes to Tobago.”
Benoit said the fight over the years for internal self-government was based on the fact that people started to reject the idea of Tobago having to go to Trinidad for everything.
“We used to come down there even to get our birth certificates, too. We are now at the level where we could get a birth certificate. But the major things, we still have to come to Trinidad to get it.”
Saying the island’s lack of productivity was partly linked to this dependency, Benoit used the agriculture sector as an example.
“I no longer have to tell my people to plant up. I could just go Trinidad on the fast ferry and pick up items.
“So, an average thing like tomatoes, our vendors come to Trinidad to buy tomatoes and come back to Tobago to sell. That is the lack of productivity I am talking about.”
Benoit claimed Tobago was producing very little.
“So because we produce very little, the fast ferries are highly needed so we have to go to Trinidad and fit into the dependency of Trinidad.”
He said once these issues were tackled, attention could then be turned to confronting the challenges plaguing the Tobago economy in sectors such as tourism, education, infrastructure and agriculture.
“The economy of Tobago will start to change when we start producing and sending things down to Trinidad.
“If you look at the history, Tobago used to send produce to Trinidad but now it is in reverse. Trinidad is now sending produce to Tobago.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley laid the new Tobago Bill in the House of Representatives on March 9, saying it was time for the island to make its own laws.
The bill, in part, calls for the establishment of a Tobago Legislature to make laws for the “peace, order and good government of Tobago.” It also advocates the setting up of a Tobago Service Commission.
The bill, currently before a joint select committee.
Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles recently urged Tobagonians to speak out on autonomy.
At a meeting at Carnbee/Mt Pleasant Community Centre on May 1, Charles told residents: “We recognise that to move this island to the next level, we have to engage in a process of adjusting our mindset.
“We cannot continue the way we are going for a number of reasons, not the least of which if we are to take responsibility for the development of the island by way of autonomy, which is being debated. It is up to us to take hold of the reigns of the various elements of Tobago and run with them.”