Political Participation Opens the Door to Advance

Space Opened for People’s Intervention in #GETT2020

A living example of what is meant by empowerment through participation in political affairs was clear from watching the three session of the historic Channel Five and Civil Society produced ‘Conversation with Candidates’.

With the announcement of the general election called for 10 August a problem was identified. That is that the candidates are not selected by the people but are imposed on them by the political parties; or individuals or small parties endure an expensive, bureaucratic process to nominate themselves as independent candidates. The electorate isn’t given the opportunity for serious interaction with these candidates. Neither in the immediate run up to the election date, and only rarely with the incumbent during the period between elections.

Engaged Communities

Walkabouts, convoys and motorcades, sound trucks and party political broadcasts are not events engaged in by equals, but divide the protagonists into lecturers and pupils or entertainers and audience. The people, however, are neither. The electorate are integral to the democratic process, the most important part of it.

To solve the problem, or at least address it, several civil society groups – Youth Votes Matter TT, Tobago Entrepreneurs, Tobago Writers Guild and Tobago Literacy Support in collaboration with TV station Channel Five [with endorsement from Tobago Youth Council, Environment Tobago, Environmental Research Institute of Charlotteville,  Tobago Jet Ski Association, the Castara Tourism Development Association and Tobago Agricultural Society]planned for and achieved a collaboration between media and civil society to plan and organize the live broadcast ‘Conversation with Candidates.’

Participation Crucial

In this way the people’s crucial participation in the country’s political affairs has been established as one of equals – not followers, passive audience, vote banks or childlike pupils.

The first of three session of the Conversations with Candidates broadcasts went well. Technically the production was slick and looked good, the set was engaging and the broadcast entertaining, the social media aspect equally effective with tens of thousands of on-line interactions The moderators – Latoya Roberts and Julian Skeete – were clued up; and most importantly all invited candidates turned up – with the exception of Progressive Democratic Patriots Leader and candidate for Tobago East Watson Duke.

The serious questions and comments – and there were also frivolous, hostile and inflammatory ones – are to be recorded and collated and presented to successful candidates elected after the #GETT2020, to the relevant Ministry/Division to be addressed more fully to continue the engagement, interaction and liaison between the people and the authorities on an ongoing basis.

An issue for improvement is that the moderators may have been testing the conditions so to speak, testing the wicket… feeling their way around the new initiative and consequently gave the candidates easy deliveries to enable them to play themselves in. Common courtesy is important in the interview process but the moderators also have the obligation to articulate on behalf of the watching, participating and listening audience the concerns, aspirations, issues and topics of interest to Tobagonians as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

For future events it is expected that the moderators should bowl bouncers and googlies. Not in order to catch the candidates out or to destabilize them, but to test their skills on this new terrain, at this level of participation where honesty, knowledge and intelligence and preparedness are crucial attributes. As well as exploring their intentions as candidates – and as representatives of the west and east consistencies if they are elected. In this way can the candidates views, their plans, their own evaluation of their performanceas MP be evaluated. This was especially needed for incumbents Ayanna Webster-Roy and Shamfa Cudjoe, both sitting MPs and government Ministers and of – if he had attended – local politician, Trade Union and Party Leader Watson Duke.

Local and National Issues

It’s not as if there aren’t matters of a local and national interest for candidates to discuss, especially in a time of Covid-19 Lockdowns and potential second waves. Crime, housing, land tenure, constitutional issues, governance, the status of Tobago, the cost of living, food insecurity, recurrent water and electricity outtages, police violence and impunity, health, education, crime, economic problems, development, apparent financial corruption and austerity measures, environmental issues, cultural and social matters all require local debate and local and national intervention to identify and address the challenges faced by this twin island republic in the covid and post covid world.

More penetrating questions could have focussed on several important issues.

  • On autonomy – what does it mean for Tobagonians to be autonomous in the unitary state of Trinidad and Tobago? How can autonomy improve the situation for Tobagonians in terms of social and economic matters – in health, education, infrastructure, employment, agriculture?
  • Thousands of citizens and descendants of Trinidad and Tobago, Tobagonians specifically, live abroad – how can the skills, knowledge, and expertise of these of our people be utilized and tapped into to develop and benefit Tobago and Trinidad and Tobago?
  • How can the representatives draw on the first hand skills, knowledge and expertise of the farmers in developing and improving the ability of the farmers to produce enough to feed ourselves or contribute to feeding ourselves and selling their surplus to Trinidad and the region.
  • How can the elected representative draw on the first hand skills, knowledge and expertise of workers [employees of AATT, firefighters, teachers and health care workers, CAL, TTPS service, WASA, TSTT, T&TEC etc] in utility companies such as WASA, TSTT, T&TEC, transportation workers [land, air and sea bridge] address the quality and standards of the island’s infrastructure and facilities
  • drawing on the first hand skills, knowledge and expertise of all employed in and affected by the education sector how can education delivery be improved to address the needs, facilities, equipment, training and performance of teachers; and of pupils in developing their literacy and knowledge to enable them to be able to contribute to the society and to participate as leaders of their communities and of the country.
  • On development of the island as one of the [Small Island Developing States [SIDS] identified by the United Nations;
  • On health care – how will government or elected representatives draw on the first hand skills, knowledge and expertise of the health care workers to address and improve the quality and performance of the hospitals and health centres.
  • How can the spirit, the energy and vigour and the enthusiasm of the people – exemplified by the youth ambition for change and to advance  – be captured, tapped into and used for the benefit of Tobago and for T and T.
  • About the environment, Protecting the environment, addressing environmental issues,
  • The Tobago economy comprises the multi-faceted aspects of both public and private sectors, basic manufacturing, utilities, agriculture, a service sector, finance, retail. In the light of the Covid 19 crisis how can we support and sustain this economy and emphasise the role of the Tobago economy in the Trinidad and Tobago economy and the regional economy. How can the economy be improved and strengthened and consolidated to meet all the material, social and cultural needs of the people and contribute to same for Trinidad and Tobago.

Important Record

In respect to the thousands of online interactions, and phoned-in comments it has been proposed that youth volunteers be mobilized to assist with the collation, recording and analysis of the questions and comments recorded on the Facebook Live post in order to analyse these, define them and report on them as an important record of the concerns of the people and that the Government Ministries and Tobago House of Assembly Divisions and the MPs/Ministers responsible for Tobago be instructed to respond.

Such participation will be an early learning exercise on how the political processes work, how the concerns and needs of the people are addressed and who makes and implements the decisions to resolve them. 

After three successful sessions of the ‘Conversations with Candidates’  the character and personalities of six of the seven candidates have been seen up close and personal, more than can be witnessed via rallies, on sound trucks or via party political broadcasts. The electorate have learned of the candidates’ demeanour, characteristics and personalities, of their plans and policies, as well as their ambitions for Tobago and in the case of Ayanna and Shamfa, an evaluation of their performance as MPs and government Ministers of the past five years.

The main lesson learned is that people’s participation is key. Not only in the media broadcasts but more importantly during the political process itself.

Tobago Channel Five and Tobago Civil Society Presents: ‘Vote 2020 – The Decision is Yours’  ‘Public Conversations with the Candidates.’

Tobago West incumbent Shamfa Cudjoe is challenged by Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) candidate Tashia Grace Burris and two independent candidates – Nickosy Phillips and Ricardo Phillip.

Tobago East Constituency Incumbent Ayanna Webster-Roy faces two challengers -Watson Duke for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and Julianna Henry-King for the One Tobago Voice (OTV).

There are 41 elections for MP that make up #GE2020 with voting scheduled for Monday 10 August 2020.

As well as the candidates of the well known parties [PNM, UNC] there are 16 other parties fielding 65 candidates and 5 independent candidates in #GETT2020.

Please join the conversation on Caribbean Empowerment’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2583126101949661/ Or, you can comment by emailing us at: caribbeanempowerment@pm.me
[Graphics – Channel Five, Tobago]

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