Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George is calling on Tobago to put aside its obsession with self-governance and focus first on its economic independence.
In a video sent via WhatsApp on Monday, George said if Tobago gets financial independence, all others would fall into place.
George said it is “unfortunate and regrettable” that there seems to be an imbroglio over the question of the Tobago autonomy bill.
“The fact of the matter is that when one considers the scenario in Tobago, the more important aspects that persons should be focussing on is to try to ensure that there is economic and financial autonomy and independence for Tobago,” he said.
He said the Tobago Business Chamber has repeatedly said if that is achieved, there would be no concern about the island getting autonomy.
“You are then able to call your own shots; make sure that you decide what you want to do and chart your own course.
“Tobago has not achieved any of that at all. Tobago remains financially dependent on Trinidad every year for its allocation from the national budget, so therefore, once you have that even if you have autonomy on paper, it doesn’t matter.
"Once you are not able to generate your own income and to become self-sustaining then they would never have that sort of freedom that they yearn for.”
George said Tobago must develop its entrepreneurial class by ensuring that business-minded individuals have the right environment, facilities and the technology to build sustainable enterprises.
“Once you have that occurring and you have that multiplied and repeated throughout Tobago, you would see a general rising of the tide. Once the tide lifts, all the boats are rising with the tide and all the boats are lifted with the tide, so that’s where the focus really needs to be rather than engaging in these spurious, specious arguments and debates and discussions about Tobago autonomy and whether you would get the support of the majority or whether you would have enough votes, all of that is just non-essential when you consider the fundamental hamstring, the fundamental thing that keeps you strong and navel string to the coffers in Trinidad is that you are not financially independent.”
Political analyst Shane Mohammed agreed with George that self-governance was inconsequential if Tobago still remained dependent on Central Government for funding. He said economic independence is attainable but requires political will, sustainable planning, development initiatives and a robust tourism drive.
"We must also ensure that the institutions of the State that are present in the Tobago space ensure effective transparency and accountability in the management of Tobago's expenses and income. This is the only way I can see Tobago really achieving its financial and economic independence. It must at all times focus as well on remaining internationally credible, which is core to its success," he said. He added, "Building institutional capacity and human capacity; building infrastructures to encourage business sectors to grow and expand; marketing Tobago as a lucrative international destination; opening up the markets for design, music, arts, things that are indigenous to Tobago will provide encouragement."
Mohammed said if the THA focuses and executes on these areas "young people can see futures as opposed to the brain drain of migration even to Port of Spain, then we can say Tobago is autonomous. Right now any conversation for autonomy that excludes a holistic approach and dwells only on political autonomy is not fair but gimmickry." Speaking on Tobago Channel 5’s morning show recently, the Prime Minister addressed the issue of autonomy for Tobago, saying "there’ll probably be a report before the Parliament dissolves in July,” referring to the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018, currently before a joint select committee.
The issue of self-governance was the last major thing that former chief secretary Orville London worked on, having hired attorneys Gilbert Peterson and Russell Martineau and held consultations around Tobago for two years. Rowley said arising out of those consultations, two draft bills were produced. Dr Rowley said the UNC's support is essential to making the bill law as it required a special majority.