Tobago needs a Chief Secretary at this time who is sure of the foundations of his own logic and can therefore be resolute, courageous, and skilled in bringing the entire Tobago population into his confidence.
So says, economist Dr Vanus James as he spoke with Newsday on Friday, three days after President Paula-Mae Weekes administered the oath of office to Ancil Dennis, 33, the youngest-ever THA chief secretary.
James said when most Tobagonians trusted the PNM with control of the THA in January 2017, few could have anticipated a "breakdown" of Tobago government and leadership. He noted that at the most inopportune time – amid a pandemic – Tobagonians find themselves with a new chief secretary.
James is not impressed.
“Who is he, really?" he asked incredulously.
“From all reports, this young man is widely expected to be a follower to whom Tobagonians cannot and will not look for leadership. Instead, Tobagonians are openly being asked to accept a model of government in which the chief executive must go to his political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine for the answer to even his innermost questions.
"And, what is more, both he and the good lady must also go to PM Dr Rowley in Trinidad for instructions on the way forward on any matter of consequence. Every Tobagonian knows that this is exactly the opposite of what was intended when we set up the THA.”
Dennis has not been secretive about his approach to leadership and has promised to work with Davidson-Celestine and the rest of the executive. He said leadership of the PNM Tobago Council was not on his radar at this time.
Dennis said, "One of the things people must understand is that even as one aspires to lead, leaders must also remain good and loyal followers and that will continue to be a main characteristic of my personality.”
James said there are several pressing issues affecting Tobago that need the attention of the chief secretary.
The major outstanding matter of Tobago’s self-determination was a priority, James said.
“The new chief secretary has to decide on the extent to which self-determination must be prioritised in these times. Given the order of priority, he must address the boundaries that naturally define Tobago and underwrite our natural justice. He must address the rights we must have going forward, including the right to set up the type of government we want. And, he must address the formula that will govern budgetary allocations.” James added: “On all these, the new chief secretary cannot function properly by turning to Ms Davidson-Celestine on every question, simple and tough. He must instead have the strength and skill to put proper inclusive governance arrangements in place to manage all the matters assigned under the 5th Schedule of the THA Act.”
James said proper arrangements must be made to continue to educate children during the covid19 pandemic.
“Given Tobago’s general situation, we cannot afford to lose an entire year’s education for any cohort. Yet, that is an immediate risk. We cannot be sure that schools will be safely reopened even in September, let alone from June as some are recommending.
“We need a skilled chief secretary who is sure of his own judgment and a skilled secretary of education to work out those arrangements in consultation with the people of Tobago, bring them to the Executive Council and the THA, and put them in place.’
The economist also noted that proper arrangements must be made to reopen the Tobago economy and engineer a recovery. He said hard choices must be made about how to re-position Tobago’s tourism sector and economy and escape the high level of dependence on Trinidad so cruelly exposed by the pandemic.
“Decisions on these matters cannot be left to Port of Spain. What we are hearing from the Central Government falls far short of the economic mark. We urgently need a bold and skilled leader as chief secretary and a secretary for development and economy to lead consultations with the people of Tobago on how these matters should be handled.”
Proper arrangements, he said, will also be needed to retrofit Tobago’s healthcare system to underwrite the efforts to build a viable and competitive tourism sector for the future.
“That is no small task and cannot be led by someone who is simply taking orders from above. We urgently need a competent and visionary chief secretary to take charge and work with a capable secretary of health to define the methods of retrofitting our healthcare system in consultation with the people of Tobago, and take action accordingly.”
Covid19, according to James, has also exposed the fact that Tobago is playing with fire when it comes to the complicated matter of food security on the island, as he also called for a collaboration between a skilled chief secretary and secretary of agriculture to define the way forward and raise the resources to finance it.