High stakes in Tobago

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine talks to the media at a press conference on Tuesday alongside Prime Minister Dr Rowley at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services, Tobago, following the National Security Council meeting. - Visual Styles
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine talks to the media at a press conference on Tuesday alongside Prime Minister Dr Rowley at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services, Tobago, following the National Security Council meeting. - Visual Styles

THE PRIME Minister’s National Security Council invitation to Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and Mr Augustine’s acceptance of that invitation on July 9 in Scarborough underline the incredibly high stakes involved in the Tobago crime fight.

If the situation was already dire given the threat to the economic and social well-being of the island, it is even more so given the political implications for both officials.

Tobago is too small to have a crime situation spiral out of control. This is a matter that demands co-operation. In Trinidad, apart from recent bail legislation, that has been missing.

Both rival politicians have come together to be at the forefront of the State's response. They stand to pay a heavy price if they fail. Their skittishness at their joint press conference when asked for concrete goals from reporters was proof they may be highly sensitive to the implications for the two crucial Tobago parliament seats.

But this week’s developments, in which the island’s murder toll hit a record-high after a quadruple murder, lay out in no uncertain terms the fact that all levels of government must get involved; they cannot simply leave crime to the police alone.

Mr Augustine, who only a few weeks ago asked for a budget allocation of $4 billion, is also completely correct in placing emphasis on the economics.

Tobago’s tourism sector is vulnerable. It is only the third largest contributor to the island’s GDP, accounting for just 14 per cent.

Of that share, a great deal relates to travellers from Trinidad. Put another way, Trinidadians are the bulwark of the island’s seasonal tourism. That could shift if Trinidadians, long used to crime on their own island, see no benefit in seeking refuge in Tobago.

Of course, the situation is completely disastrous when it comes to cruise ships and commercial airline flights with their international visitors. A key premise of the $1.2 billion Tobago airport upgrade is now dramatically imperilled at a time when cash is in short supply. Tourism stagnation will only yield more law-breaking.

Questions must be asked about the plan to put more boots and CCTV cameras on the ground. The mention, as well, of new police headquarters on the island raises the matter of cost, which was not adequately addressed.

An outstanding issue is the capacity of the Coast Guard, which would seem an integral part of interdiction and control.

We can commend Dr Rowley and Mr Augustine for sending the right signal.

However, the danger going forward, if results are not seen in the second half of this year, is that both officials will simply blame each other.

Will this be just another oil-spill response, which began with kumbayas and ended in acrimony?

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"High stakes in Tobago"

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