Tashia Grace Burris, 35, is a young woman facing the polls for the first time.
The mother of two is the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) candidate for Tobago West. The PDP is led by Watson Duke who is contesting Tobago East.
“That is what the PDP is about. We are made up of young people, Mr Duke is the oldest. Young persons are part of the decision-making process in the PDP,” she said in an interview with the Express last week in Tobago.
On the issue of having a leader (Duke) on a rape charge, Burris said, “I cannot presume anyone’s innocence or guilt. I have had friends who have been victims as females. I have had male friends who have been wrongly accused, that is why they have courts, so that I will leave the court to make its determination in this matter.”
Addressing concerns that young people may have decided not to vote, Burris said the youths are “very apathetic towards politicians and anything to do with politics. Politics has been sold to them as a dirty game. It has been sold to them where only a few benefit and the majority suffer. So people who offer themselves for politics are just going there to enrich themselves, their families and friends and there is no benefit to them voting”.
Pointing out that those in authority have done a great disservice to youths by being poor representatives, Burris said she hopes to change this mode of thinking.
“They have heard of governments mismanaging funds, they have heard of those in authority becoming millionaires overnight and they look around and they themselves are suffering, they are the ones promises have been made to and then broken. So whenever they hear politics, automatically in their mind they have a negative association,” she said.
Never forget your history
Boasting of growing up in an era of former prime minister and president Arthur NR Robinson, Burris recalled as a child her father often saved newspaper clippings of Robinson, keeping them in a dossier which he allowed his children to read frequently.
“We read it and learnt about our history and never forget. The young people now, they do not know about Mr Robinson. He was part of our politics, they do not know about Hochoy Charles and do not understand what visions these men had for the island. They never saw a developed Tobago under Orville London, that is why young people are not interested in voting. Some of them hustle to make a living, they do not see how the government is supposed to work for them,” she said.
Admitting that her task of trying to change their minds has been challenging, Burris said through the use of analogies she has been making progress.
“When I go out and speak with them I have to draw parallels, are you happy with your community? Yes, you are hustling and you buy a car, but if the road is bad and your car is mashing up, you cannot fix the road, but you have to be spending money buying parts for the car, so don’t you see the importance of having a say and putting someone there to ensure our roads are good. Most of them just want conversation, they don’t want promises, they just want to work and they have been saying this all the time,” Burris said.
Serving for 17 years
The fiery candidate who has been making waves on radio programmes due to her stance on issues affecting Tobago, feels her chances for selection are great, since Tobago is looking for hope.
Burris said, “Tobago right now wants hope. And that is a very important task I have in front of me. Reality is people will choose who they are comfortable with, I have already made peace. My voice and platform have already inspired people regardless of the outcome. Tobagonians have to realise that we cannot wait on a government in Trinidad to help us become the island we need to become. We need to get up and not rely on just two representatives.”
Claiming that in the past politicians promised voters “a little $500 or a bottle of puncheon”, Burris said, “that is how campaigning has been done for the past 20 years. The youths do not see these persons until there is a next election and they do not see delivery coming to their communities. They say they have to make it in life and no politician can help me”.
And declaring there is a wider responsibility for those who aspire to be in government, Burris said, “For those who aspire to be in governance, they need to be true representatives of their people, and they have not been seeing this. They are seeing self-serving politicians.”
She said she has been serving people for the past 17 years. “Every job I have, is about service oriented jobs to others,” she said.
Stating that youths in Tobago want to be heard and respected, Burris added that a lot of healing needs to take place at the levels of families and schools.
PNM educated us
Noting that she as well as others are from the generation who benefited from the Dollar for Dollar and GATE education, Burris said, “so it’s not that we are ungrateful to the PNM for GATE. You have educated us to make logical decisions, so you cannot expect that you pay for my education and I am going to blindly support you, especially when you have demonstrated you do not have our best interest at heart.
“It cannot work like that. You educated me for a reason. When I look at the state of our nation, as a mother to a young black man, the last place I want to send him is Trinidad. I have a serious concern about the crime situation. I am not certain that the situation will be arrested anytime soon.”
Conceding that Tobago still remains “pretty safe”, Burris said Tobagonians still look out for each other in Tobago.
“I want to be part of a movement that transforms Tobago, not just a physical paradise, but one in a true sense...a holistic transformation of Tobago,” she said.
She noted that historically, those in Opposition have been more open to giving Tobago things they have asked for.
“We have seen that when NAR was in power from 1986-1991, Basdeo Panday led United National Congress government 1995-2001; the People’s Partnership government from 2010-2015, but the reality is no government has done Tobago the justice that it deserves at this time with respect to the autonomy issue,” she said.
Autonomy for Tobago
Burris said for too long promises have been made in relation to autonomy for Tobago, yet none has materialised.
“I do not know if there is a fear that the persons in there now are not responsible enough, are not mature enough to govern an island and if that is the case, it is unfair to keep an entire population back because you have put forward 12 men or women who you know are not ready to govern an island.
“The THA (Tobago House of Assembly) has been led by the PNM for the past 20 years, it is your own people, so if you don’t think your own is able to govern, account for money correctly, then move them out and let somebody else who has the experience, who has the human resource capacity and who wants to do better, allow them the opportunity to do so,” she said.
| Tashia Grace Burris, 35, was born in Canaan but was raised with her five siblings in the communities of Scarborough and Sou Sou Lands by her parents.|
Her early schooling included attending the Scarborough RC School, then Bishop’s High School. Burris entered university in 2004 as a student of the School of Accounting and Management where she read for a Bachelor’s degree in Computing and Information Systems. She graduated with Upper Second Class Honours in 2008. In 2011, she began her pursuit of an International Master’s in Business Administration from the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business where she graduated with distinction in 2015. Her specialisation is in International Marketing Management.
Not new to volunteerism, Burris’ resume boasts work with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as an Assistant Youth Coordinator, with their Tobago Community Outreach Programme. She then moved to the Department of Youth Affairs in 2005 as a Youth Auxiliary and was promoted to Youth Centre Coordinator in 2007 to manage the operations of the Bethel Youth Centre. She was also a member of the Tobago HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee (THACC) and served as a trained Peer Educator/Facilitator for the Tobago Youth Council.
Subsequent to this, she spent six years as a Customer Service Supervisor at the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago during the years 2008 to 2014 and was assigned to manage the customer service department at the Port of Scarborough.
Apart from politics, Burris hopes one day to read for a Bachelor’s degree in Law as she sees the opportunity to provide much needed legal services to the less fortunate in society.
2015 Election Results
Shamfa Ashaki Cudjoe: PNM — 10,609
Hochoy Alexander Charles: TPT — 357
Christlyn Nathalia Moore: TF — 1,602
Paul Johnny Peters: ILP — 62
Ann Natasha Second: TOP — 766