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A RINGBANG STORY by David Walker

posted 24 Nov 2020, 16:50 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 Nov 2020, 17:34 ]
David Walker
At the turn of the century an event occurred in Tobago that would change the politics on the island for all the years since then. It is truly remarkable to reflect on the impact of that event and compare it with the lack of any discernible reaction to a multitude of similar events since. Here is the warning given by one A. H. Hotep in advance of the event (December 1999).  
You can find the full article at http://www.trinicenter.com/more/Ringbang.htm

"If this issue was not about taxpayer's money, it would be comical. We have another spending extravaganza taking place in Tobago called the Millennium Concert, which is costing taxpayers a whooping forty million dollars. The people are being promised twenty-eight minutes on B.B.C. to place the nation on the international map.

Chief secretary for Tobago affairs Hochoy Charles and Eddy Grant are the main players behind this fiasco. Miss Josanne Lennard, spokes person for this project, treated the people to an hour-long diatribe on the TV6 morning program.

They are presenting the same arguments that the Prime Minister gave for the one hundred million-dollar expenditure on the Miss Universe Beauty Contest, and Carlos John's eight million-dollar World Beat Festival. People have recognized the failure of these two projects to bring any of the benefits promised.  The question is why would they invest taxpayer's money in another extravagant project, especially at a time when we are hearing of workers in Tobago not getting their salaries because of the shortage of funds." 

The Millennium Concert was better known locally as the Ring Bang Concert. The event was a financial disaster, resulting as predicted in significant losses to the THA and pain to the residents of the island. It also led to the rejection of the ruling party led by Hochoy Charles who would never be elected to office again. Thus began the uninterrupted rein of the PNM in Tobago. One might wonder why the Tobagonian aversion to wasteful spending did not then continue in subsequent years. The answer is very, very simple. It is that the incoming regime was about to benefit from the revised arrangement for calculation of funds
allocated from Central Government to Tobago that greatly enriched the island. 

Here is the allocation to Tobago by year for most of the last two decades

During the period of PNM rule there have been many instances of misspent millions. You would be justified in saying that it has become the norm. There is the artiste who was paid to perform at Jazz Festival and never showed up and has not returned the money. No explanation is forthcoming. 

Likewise with the millions of dollars paid by cheque to Virgin Atlantic which never arrived but which was taken from the THA account. And what of the acquisition of Sanctuary Villas and Manta Lodge Hotel for about 30 million which have stood unoccupied for about five years and which cost millions each year since then in security, maintenance and other costs.

The list is a long and troubling one. No explanation or corrective action is ever mentioned. Requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act are ignored and even the Auditor General is unable year after year to force them to produce the accounting documents to support the statements that they claim reflect the transactions undertaken by them. As a result of their brazen refusal to account to us, we don't even know with any certainty how bad the situation is.

The citizens of Tobago are very aware of this. Why then have they not reacted in the same way as they reacted to the Ring Bang fiasco? Why does the ruling party not pay a price at the ballot box for their financial misbehaviour? It seems that we have become insensitive to the wrongs committed against us. Unlike in 2000 we are now so used to the misspending of our money that there is no consequence for further wastage or corruption.

The likely answer to this conundrum lies in the data in the table in the sidebar. The THA is awash with money so that having to pay Virgin Atlantic millions of dollars twice does not impact on anyone's job or other sources of income from the THA. As long as the citizens are personally insulated from the losses then they see no need to punish the incumbents. That has been the story for the best part of two decades.

What citizens don't see is that their lives are in fact impacted negatively by the wastage and corruption. Failed projects and misspent funds make us less productive. They are the reasons why we have not been able to develop agriculture or any other productive sector of the economy. It is the reason why we remain totally dependent on subventions from central government.

Can the Tobago economic landscape ever be transformed for the better? The answer for me is that I don't see human nature changing. As long as citizens' narrow interests are served they will not risk significant change. I don't expect citizens to put real pressure on the leaders of THA, whoever they may be, once food is on the table.

At the same time, Tobago has proven in the past that it is capable ot achieving change. The change has not delivered on the promise of better management of our finances. Are we prepared to change once again in the hope of better management? Can we realistically expect anything better than what is being offered now, given the ability under current financing to deliver a minimum level of comfort to the population despite growing waste and corruption?

More importantly perhaps, how are we the citizens able to influence the behaviour of our leaders? The options are few but they do exist. I will explore that in an upcoming column.