Augustine: Tobagonians want a 'close government'

Voters outside Bon Accord Government Primary School during the 2021 THA elections. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers
Voters outside Bon Accord Government Primary School during the 2021 THA elections. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers

Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said the turnout of voters in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections is higher than in the general election because the population understands its importance.

He was speaking at the weekly meeting of the Port of Spain Rotary Club at Goodwill Industries, 9 Fitzblackman Drive, Woodbrook.

In the 2020 general election, approximately 26,900 people voted in Tobago. In contrast, the December 2021 THA elections attracted almost 28,900 voters.

Speaking on the topic of autonomy, Augustine said it is common both internationally and locally for countries to have self-government when there is more than one land mass involved. He used the example of Wales and Scotland in the United Kingdom and St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.

“There are examples of how we can be decentralised. We see you are struggling to do it with local government and you’re doing it bit by bit, but Tobago is ready, we have had enough experience to know that with greater autonomy, services get closer to the people.

“If you check the data, more Tobagonians vote in a THA election than usually will vote in a central government or general election, which tells you people are more concerned with the island of Tobago, simply because they have realised that the vast majority of our services come from the island that is next door to them.

“You know what it is to be able to go through your yard, shout over your fence, and have your neighbour be the person that represents you. You know what it is to be in your father’s house taking a rest and people knocking on your door at all hours? It’s because people recognise that their government is very close to them, physically and administratively, and that helps with efficiency.”

He called on government to deal with the issue of the airbridge, as he said the issue of efficient public transportation and connectivity was an urgent one. He said prior to covid19, there were 20-22 flights daily between Trinidad and Tobago, which had been reduced to 12, and never gone back to the original figure.

“That has to be a Cabinet decision, as there are subsidies on the flights. It’s a cost-saving mechanism to have less flights because you spend less for subsidies, so it’s outside the reach of the CAL board and is a Cabinet decision. We have to connect the two islands and the only ways to do that is by air and by sea.

“Around the world, governments invest in public transportation. The profits you see from investing in public transportation is not from people spending money on tickets, but for the economic activities that happen as a result, by people using hotels and guesthouses on the island, by people being able to access services on both islands, as a lot of Tobagonians use services in Trinidad, so it goes both ways.

“So the benefits we should be looking for from a much more efficient inter-island ferry and airlift situation is from the economic spend, as opposed to ticket sales.”

Augustine said this would also help with tourism, as it would mean tourists flying to Tobago through Trinidad would be able to move between the two islands efficiently.

He called for the upgrading and digitisation of the customs and immigrations department, as well as the installation of an in-transit desk at the Piarco International Airport.

Speaking to media following the event, Augustine gave an update on the upcoming Tobago People’s Party (TPP) internal elections.

“By the end of this week, the elections committee will release to the public the schedule of events, which will include nomination, the process to be nominated and the venue for voting on June 9.”

He said the party was a credible independent party for Tobago.

“We currently manage the government of the island of Tobago and we have also have been able to retain the support of the majority of Tobagonians. We are building out an independent Tobago-based, Tobago-centric party. We have not demonstrated any real material or other interests in the local Trinidadian politics and what’s happening here.

“We believe that Trinidadians are capable and articulate enough to make their own decisions here, but we believe that if Tobago is to get the type of autonomy they’ve been talking about for years, it requires an independent Tobago-based party to achieve it, as opposed to a party that has its centre in Port of Spain or elsewhere.”


"Augustine: Tobagonians want a ‘close government’"

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