WITH less than two weeks left before the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, there is already deep campaign fatigue. Where are the issues?
Parties are rowing over calls for a boycott, jabs are being thrown at independent candidates, political mandarins are giving history lessons and senior officials are trafficking in juvenile rhetoric.
All the sound and fury masks the dismaying fact that this is an election in the shadow of a global pandemic. However, covid19 fatigue alone cannot explain the complete lack of accountability, transparency and imagination on display. Like a bobolee brought out once a year to beat, the parties have yet again turned to the issue of “Tobago autonomy.”
All seem confident the Tobago electorate yearns for this ill-defined goal. They have spoken of reports done decades ago, the proceedings of closed-door committees and the requirement of a constitutional majority.
None have shown any interest in setting out exactly what autonomy means, the many forms it could take or how it would be financed.
The ruling party has done a bad job of explaining why, after two terms, it has made little substantial headway on this matter. It cannot simply point to the Opposition. There are potentially many far-ranging devolutions which could be enacted on the strength of a simple majority.
Similarly, the opposition parties have provided no clarity on what their own timelines of implementation would look like. The truth is, Tobago autonomy has been on the “front burner” for decades now for successive governments. That alone tells us a story.
But the assumption that autonomy is even a relevant or appropriate issue to address at this sensitive stage – amid the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s – is not a sound one.
We should be hearing more about plans to diversify Tobago’s economy and to deepen its integration into the global economic system. It remains the case that tourism is important for the island’s revenue stream. What alternative models of operation will Tobago (and Trinidad) adopt to deal with the prospect of an increased frequency of coronaviruses?
Assuming border restrictions will ease at some point, what steps will Tobago take to position itself to compete with other Caribbean destinations, especially since the Caricom “tourism bubble” has burst?
But addressing Tobago’s economy is not limited to addressing tourism. It must also include dealing with unemployment, safeguarding the island’s energy supply, improving infrastructure, boosting food production, reducing corruption, eliminating waste and increasing productivity.
Where are the plans in relation to these issues?
Meanwhile, it is dismaying the parties have devoted time and energy to attacking independent candidates at a time when listening to as wide a range of voices is more important than ever. We hope this truly lacklustre campaign is not Tobago’s new normal.