NIKOLI EDWARDS, interim political leader of the Progressive Party is confident about capturing the Tobago East and West seats in the next general election. He told Newsday on Monday, his plan is to allow Tobagonians to choose what is best to develop their island.
His plans include empowering stakeholders by seriously investing in the island’s tourism sector, promoting development and creating a more robust private and public sector.
The party was launched on June 16 in San Fernando. Edwards said the party believes in using policies to help reform issues in TT adding that the party will be contesting all 41 seats including the two in Tobago.
Edwards said he understands the sensitive political environment in Tobago. He said from working in the past with Tobago youths and organisations, he understand the island’s major issues which are preventing growth.
“We need to make some strategic investments to help the private sector in Tobago to reach optimum capacity. Of course we are not going to allow the private sector to become dependent on state funds. We feel as though we need to get them to a place where they feel comfortable to invest and expand their businesses.”
He said Progressive will be allowing Tobagonians to choose who they want to represent them in parliament. “I think Tobagonians would trust Tobagonians, and that is totally understandable. So our intention is to seek candidates from Tobago and we think, considering this is a new party, we may be able to get a good crop of candidates coming forward.
He said the screening of candidates will begin in the not too distant future, and the party is working on a date and venue.
Edwards said there has been a lack of proper consultation on issues involving Tobago where decisions for the island are made in Trinidad without the involvement of Tobagonians.
“We, from the onset, are going to be very different where we are going to engage Tobagonians as best as possible because we need the buy-in. We want this process to be driven by the people so no decision that the Progressive Party takes or presents is going to be without proper consultation or without support from the constituencies of Tobago East and West.”
While Tobagonians are rooting for full autonomy, Edwards said politicians will continue to dangle promises of self-governance to Tobago when full autonomy is not the best way to go.
"We think the wrong message has been sent and it will be to the detriment of Tobagonians. One has to ask the question, after full autonomy is achieved or given, what then happens? We don’t want Tobagonians to feel as though this is their only option. We understand the plight and concerns Tobagonians have; the distrust to central government. This is why we need a new administration, one that doesn’t look at Trinidad on one end and Tobago on the other end.”
He said the ability to make legislation and an increase in the allocation Tobago is given in the national budget, is a significant pillar towards the island’s development that has been neglected. “We have not solidified a figure as yet, but we do think that this needs to be increased and we will consult with the economists and people of Tobago as to what this would look like. Whatever Tobago doesn’t get from that direct budget, we will have to ensure the other ministries responsible for various sectors will make the necessary investments in the island of Tobago.”
He said Tobago House of Assembly and central government must work on strengthening the bond between both parties because if granted, self-governance will only drive a wedge between the two islands.
He also spoke of plans to fix the air and sea bridge issues and said he wants to assure Tobagonians they will be a part of the process every step of the way.