“Ryan Allard, this is Ancil Dennis. I am forming a Recovery Committee for Tobago and would like you to be the vice-chairman.”
This was how my phone call started on an otherwise typical Saturday evening in May 2020, a few months into the pandemic.
I was honoured to be asked by the Chief Secretary, with whom I had never previously spoken.
I asked, “Why me?” and was told that it was important to have young leaders who are capable and aware of sustainable development.
At that point, it was clear that most economic activity on the island would cease.
It would represent a great time to put in place the key changes to prepare for the reopening of the world.
The Roadmap to Recovery Working Group was appointed for six months from June 1, 2020 to develop an action plan for Tobago.
The membership was a range of very experienced persons from Tobago with, importantly, a broad diversity of backgrounds including economics, but also social issues, education, good governance, agriculture, tourism, green energy, technology, culture, environmental protection and sustainable development.
This was indicative of good foresight by the Chief Secretary that Tobago needs a range of interventions to fully develop into its potential.
The recovery team had a wide range of discussions, debates and deep thought, and we quickly realised the importance of not writing just another policy document, but getting some of the critical initiatives executed.
We spent hours identifying and learning from the failures of past initiatives, such as the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan (CEDP), and from successful implementation from around the world.
The sleeping Cocrico
The Roadmap to Recovery Working Group’s report (available at THA.gov.tt) summarises Tobago’s needs in the first few pages where it’s stated that the overall development needs of Tobago dwarf the immediate Covid-19 recovery needs.
We certainly identified the immediate needs for protection of the vulnerable groups of our society.
That has been the focus of the Government’s work. However, we identified other needs for education and coaching, improving professional standards, governance and financial management, improving project execution, and of course diversification of the economy.
Tobago really laid as dormant as a sleeping Cocrico before the pandemic, and we see a worsening of this in 2021 even without the current state of emergency.
Now is the time to start fixing these things in a way that still keeps the population Covid-safe and prepares us for the vaccinated world.
As if to highlight the glaring need for improved governance in Tobago, our current 6-6 impasse, now in month Number 5, has basically ended any recovery process that the island began in 2020.
Tobago’s problems need a functional THA which includes both a fully working legislature to do things like discuss a useful budget and a fully working executive to do things like operate all of our THA Divisions at maximum effectiveness. We have neither at this time.
What this means is that we are hampered not just by Covid-19 which we can’t fully control, but also by an incomplete government, which we can fix, if we wanted to.
Whether you’re a PNM or a PDP supporter, this can’t be acceptable. Tobago remains a Sleeping Cocrico. What happens after lockdown? Will this be the same? How long will we stay in government limbo? For four years? Is this how we will get self-government?
Wake up Cocrico!
So what can we do? Many Tobagonians are disgusted with this situation. Tobago CivilNET did a survey of over 800 Tobagonians about the impasse, and 75 per cent wanted it fixed within three months.
We are way past that deadline. Time’s up! Numerous recommendations have already been made to the 12 elected representatives.
Now is the time for ordinary Tobagonians, like yourself, to talk more about moving the process forward, with your friends, with your family and especially with your elected representatives.
Ask your assemblyman every time you see them: “What are you doing to end this 6-6 impasse?” If they don’t give a satisfactory answer, remind them that you can always vote for someone else next time.
Tobago needs recovery, particularly after this state of emergency, and Tobago therefore needs you right now, to tell the elected 12 assemblymen, especially the six with temporary executive power, that this impasse is untobagonian and they have to fix it.
The risks of doing nothing are great. I believe in you.
The entire Recovery Working Group believes in you and together all Tobagonians can overcome this. Because if we don’t believe in ourselves, and take action when needed, I don’t know that we deserve to be called Tobagonian.