TO what extent will Tobago truly be able to govern itself, and how will self-government benefit the youths?
These are the burning questions being asked by young people on the island as the Government prepares to bring legislation on internal self-rule to the Parliament, according to president of the Tobago Youth Council (TYC) Latoyaa Roberts-Thomas.
She said while the young people welcome the move to give Tobago greater responsibility in managing its affairs, they are deeply concerned about the manner in which the plan would be carried out.
“Will we still be within the remit of Trinidad and Tobago, to get the leeway to do certain things, because we are still governed by a constitution or will it be full (autonomy)?” Roberts-Thomas asked.
She added: “So definitely that is a challenge, because you giving us the liberty and the freedom on the one hand but we still governed under the constitution of TT, which means that central Government will still have overarching responsibility for us even within the new proposed internal self-government. We still not independent, so we still not on our own.”
Roberts-Thomas told Newsday Tobago the council held a community outreach exercise at Speyside High School in April at which they gauged feedback on the much-touted legislation.
“That would have been the most public forum in which we discussed it (internal self-government).”
She said based on the feedback from the students and the council’s own deliberations, it was agreed the existing construct of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), “in terms of composition and representation,” is ill-suited to the development of the island.
Roberts-Thomas said this must be urgently revisited.
“What is deemed as development now isn’t really futuristic and sustainable development for the island.”
Even so, Roberts-Thomas, who assumed the position of president last year, said the council was concerned about the capacity of the island’s citizens to manage their own affairs.
“We feel that, yes, Tobagonians are educated and maybe able to manage, but young people aren’t really given opportunities to really get into strong leadership positions to even govern anything.
“So, it’s going to be weird if we really get internal self-government, if we will have the knowledge and experience of how to effectively go forward with managing our own affairs.”
Roberts-Thomas said in the area of development, people felt the government was not catering to the island’s future generation.
“I know a lot of the young people were talking about the non-traditional industries being developed on the island more, when it comes to technology, culture and arts. No emphasis has been there when it comes to developing the economy.
“So, a lot of people feel that even when Tobago gets its internal self-government, it is still based on what the seniors want and not necessarily the development that the future Tobagonian wants in the first place. So they not getting the direct benefits.”
Roberts-Thomas said Tobago’s ability to actually support its 60,000 population was also a major concern for the council.
“As a small community, there is still going to be heavy reliance on Trinidad for economics and trade. So then, to what extent are you really self-governed?
“A lot of our imports may still come from Trinidad. Is just that you will have the purchasing power to still buy it from Trinidad. So that idea of self-sustainability, they have not really seen it in the internal self governance model.”
Asked if there is a general sense that young Tobagonians are enthusiastic about internal self-government, Roberts-Thomas said: “No, because whether it comes or it doesn’t come, the youths need to live their life. They not really too concerned about which governance structure takes place, because at the end of the day they still not convinced it’s for them.”
On a personal note, she added: “The population is small so whether we have internal self-government or not, it still won’t change the dynamics in Tobago.”
Roberts-Thomas described the situation as “small society syndrome.”
“So, whether we get internal self-government or stick with the current position, it is not going to change because we are a small economy in the first place.
“And for me, the problem is not the government structure but the management of the people. Tobago has enough resources under the current structure but we still not using it well enough.”
During a series of community meetings in Tobago, earlier this year, Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles urged Tobagonians to be vocal about the proposed legislation.
In his budget presentation on October 1, Finance Minister Colm Imbert revealed the legislation to grant self-government to the THA has been through a Joint Select Committee and is expected to be brought to the Parliament soon for debate.
“This bill promises greater financial flexibility to the Tobago House of Assembly in the management of its fiscal affairs and gives it greater predictability in developmental planning for Tobago,” Imbert had said.