Winford James

Dr Winford James

I was going to write about Joel Jack’s 2020/2021 budget until I saw Clint Chan Tack’s report in the Newsday of 07/07/20, which appeared under the headline ‘Rowley warns Tobago: No forgiveness if Duke wins’. ‘What?!’ I blurted. Has he lost his mind?’

Joel has been in a bind with his budgets, which perennially ask the Finance Minister Colm Imbert for $4+ billion, but which Imbert roughly halves, religiously. Last year, he asked for $4.5 billion but got $2.3. And this year, he has asked for $4.71 billion, knowing he will not get much more than $2.2 billion. It is a shameful ritual that he goes through and he must be sick and tired of it by now.

So Chan Tack’s article beckoned.

The first paragraph stated as follows:

‘People’s National Movement (PNM) political leader and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley declared he would not forgive Tobagonians if they elected Progressive Democratic Party (sic) (PDP) political leader Watson Duke to Parliament.’

What?! What arrogance! Who did he think he was? Was he threatening Tobagonians? Did he own the votes that they would be crazy to give to Duke and his Progressive Democratic Patriots and accordingly visit vengeance on them? Was he dictating how they must not vote under the pain of serious damage to their economy? Was he going to shut the THA down?

But, as I read on, while I noted that he did not use the scandalous phrase ‘not forgive’, I saw that he used the equally intolerable one ‘not give them a pass’ in the sentence: ‘Additionally, if the people of Tobago elect to Parliament a person who is on a criminal charge, I will personally not give them a pass on that!’

It is more than apparent that Chan Tack’s superiors had interpreted that phrase as ‘not forgive’.

Same difference.

The article focused on Dr Rowley’s view that people with criminal charges against them should not offer themselves to be parliamentarians, as well as on his vowing not to join up with Duke to form the government if Duke were to be voted in and his seat were to be needed for such an eventuality.

Dr Rowley’s arrogance riles those of us with enough Tobago pride to reject his effrontery out of hand, and it also invites us to evaluate his government’s performance vis-à-vis Tobago over the last five years. Unfortunately, the evaluation is not good at all.

When in 2015 we employed Dr Rowley and the two Tobago parliamentarians, Shamfa Cudjoe and Ayanna Webster-Roy, we gave them four major tasks: 1) bring back greater autonomy for the island; 2) expand the tourism plant in the island; 3) lay down the infrastructure for the expansion of the airport; 4) expand the southwest water supply and wastewater systems.

In respect of the autonomy matter, what we have is zilch, nada, zero, nothing. Dr Rowley’s five years of administration has ended, and all he can tell us is that the matter is with a Joint Select Committee —for over two years now—and that, in any case, he does not have the majorities to get whatever version of the Bill passed. After five years, nothing, zero, nada, zilch.

In respect of expanding the tourism plan, his Sandals hotel initiative couldn’t get off the ground because of, according to him, negative press from the Opposition and civil society who complained about the overgenerous deal that was being offered to Butch Stewart and the potential for damage to the fragile ecosystem if we were not careful enough. Zilch, nada, zero, nothing. After five years.

In respect of the expansion of the airport, nothing has been put down yet and it is only this year that payments for uprooted landowners and occupiers are being made. In the meantime, there’s a sociological disaster developing in Crown Point. An expanded airport has not yet been delivered. Same old plant. Infrastructure-wise, nothing… .

In respect of the expansion of the water supply and wastewater systems, the promised desalination plant has not materialised but there has been some movement in the expansion of wastewater treatment with the takeover and expansion of Mt Pleasant Credit Union’s wastewater treatment plant by WASA in the Bon Accord Integrated Development. So some infrastructural success here.

These facts on the tasks given to our Prime Minister and two parliamentarians seem to suggest that the Tobagonian electorate has a greater motive to vote against, rather than for, the PNM in the general elections come August 10. The PNM has failed miserably on the tasks but Dr Rowley feels it incumbent on him to flag to the electorate the unresolved charge of sexual misbehaviour on Duke’s part.

We paid them millions of dollars over the last five years to prosecute these tasks to fruition. By my reckoning, we paid the Prime Minister over $5 million, and Madams Cudjoe and Webster-Roy $3 million each (including perks), to do the job. Instead, there is precious little they have come back with.

Furthermore, as PM, Dr Rowley presided over the destruction of the Tobago economy, causing a crash of more than 12.5 per cent in 2016-2018, which amounts to 67 per cent if we start counting from 2012 when the PNM accelerated its programme—yes, programme—to employ all Tobagonians in low productivity THA work and expand their vote bank. Tourism itself crumbled by more than 11 per cent in 2016-2018.

It should be clear that Watson Duke’s alleged sins do not begin to wreak the kind of damage on Tobago as the PNM’s evaluated sins have done. We have not paid him to perform any tasks yet in the Parliament.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

We join with the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) in condemning the abusive and ­racist attack by Ancel Roget, president-general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) on editors at all three daily newspapers.

Public abuse by a prominent person is always unacceptable, especially when that person is a leading defender of workers’ rights. Ancel Roget is well-known as a fighter against oppression and stands out as a fighter against all types of injustice.

There is no need to press the panic button at this time.

The general election should stay on course for August 10. The Secondary Education Assessment should stay on course for August 20.

I am sitting here in front of the TV just before the election, and for once not dismissing the non-government candidates on the assumption that the die is cast for them and theirs is an exercise in futility.

The recent statements of a union leader are another reminder that we need modern, sensible leadership for these organisations.