Tobago – Post Election Stalemate Continues

Tobago, Make Your Assemblymen End this Five Month Fiasco, Urges Local Leader

Dr Ryan Allard

“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 began on an otherwise typical Saturday evening in May 2020, a few months into the COVID19 pandemic. I was honoured to be asked by the Tobago House of Assembly [THA] Chief Secretary, with whom I had never previously spoken. I asked “Why me?” and was told that it was important to have young leaders that 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 6 months from 1 June 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 incisive foresight by the Chief Secretary that Tobago requires a range of interventions to fully develop into its potential.

Execute ‘em!

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 of similar initiatives from around the world.

The Sleeping Cocrico

The Roadmap to Recovery Working Group’s report summarises Tobago’s needs in the first few pages where it is stated that the overall development needs of Tobago dwarf the immediate COVID19 recovery needs. The Working Group certainly identified the immediate needs of our society’s vulnerable groups for protection. 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, the island’s current 6-6 impasse, now in Month Number 5, has essentially stalled any recovery process that the island began in 2020. Tobago’s problems require 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. Tobago has neither at this time.

What this means is that Tobagonians are hampered not just by COVID19, which we can’t fully control, but also by an incomplete government, which we can fix, if we wanted to.

Whether you’re a People’s National Movement [PNM] or a Progressive Democratic Patriots [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 4 years? Is this how Tobago will attain self-government?

Wake up Cocrico!

So what can we do? Many Tobagonians are disgusted with this situation. Tobago CivilNET, a non aligned grouping of individuals and organisations, recently conducted a survey of over 800 Tobagonians about the impasse, and 75% wanted it fixed within 3 months. We are way past that deadline. Time’s Up! Numerous recommendations have already been made to the 12 elected Assemblymen. The group suggests that now is the time for Tobagonians to intensify the campaign to move the process forward, by engaging in discussions with friends, family, and with the 12 elected representatives, especially the 6 with temporary executive power, who should be asked at every opportunity: ‘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 for when the COVID19 related State of Emergency ends.

The risks of doing nothing are great.

More info: 

Ryan Allard, PhD was the Vice Chair of the Tobago Roadmap to Recovery Working Group, 2020
Dr Allard participates in Tobago CivilNET a nonaligned umbrella group of Non-Government Organisations [NGOs] and citizens seeking to unite the island’s individuals and organisations for positive change.
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