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posted 14 Mar 2018, 08:03 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 14 Mar 2018, 08:21 ]
David Walker
I vividly remember the bold utterance of Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe sometime shortly after the last election. In a missive to the opposition and detractors she declared “We in charge now!”. Listening to the goodly lady and her colleague, the Chief Secretary of the THA last week, I had to wonder whether they understand that being in charge has two sides.

You get to run things, spend money however you decide, enjoy trips to “promote tourism” etc. The corollary is that you get praise or blame according to outcome. You own the results of your actions. These

Shamfa Cudjoe

 two politicians who are most responsible for Tobago’s affairs seem from their statements not to understand that they are the ones to be held responsible.

Here is a report on the views of Ms Cudjoe on the catastrophic state of the sea bridge - “Tourism Minister and Member of Parliament for Tobago West, Shamfa Cudjoe, also used parliamentary time to disparage her fellow islanders, the Tobago Chamber of Commerce and “fake” businessmen who have criticised Government’s management of the sea bridge that led to the protracted crisis. Those people don’t care about Tobago, she boldly concluded, and they are killing Tobago’s entrepreneurial spirit.”

Not to be outdone there was Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles reportedly going even further when he characterised the unreliable sea bridge service as a benefit to Tobagonians, whom he described as having a “propensity to lament”. His evidence of the gain for Tobago was one man who planted lettuce.

Clearly these two leaders feel no sense of responsibility for our current state of affairs. In fact they seem to suggest that complaints are not justified. The malaise that we all see is a figment of our imaginations. Where we on the ground see problems, they see opportunities.

The lack of imported food items is a wake up call to us to go back to the land. And the absence of a reliable boat is somehow the fault of “fake” businessmen and our propensity to lament. Soon we’ll be told to applaud the potholes in the road as they keep drivers alert. Of course the regular absence of water in the pipe is really an opportunity to embrace modern technology via an expensive desalination plant.

Kelvin Charles
I beg to differ. The manifest problems arising out of the collapse of the sea bridge are real and far reaching. Every resident of Tobago is the poorer for it and is affected by it daily. These leaders clearly do not understand the extent of our reliance on what should be a reliable, efficient service. We count on it not just to stock our shops but to facilitate medical appointments, journeys to and from work, visits to family and so much more. We shouldn’t have to explain this to the Minister and the Chief Secretary but evidently we do.

It is a travesty that those who should understand and champion our interests should instead speak in such a clueless manner about our predicament. Serving our interests should be their goal but clearly it isn’t. Blaming the victims is perhaps the most cowardly refuge open to them but that is the one they choose.

If blame is to be apportioned surely they should be looking at each other and themselves. They are in charge, remember. I am yet to hear a word of criticism from the THA about the failure of  central government or vice versa. Between them they hold all the levers of power and have not been shy in telling us how closely they work together. We were led to expect improved performance as a result of this great working relationship. Instead we have had chaos with no sign of remorse or acceptance of their failure to look after the citizens.

Looking forward it is difficult to be positive. We know that resources will be more limited than during recent years so we should perhaps expect further deterioration in output. After all, if they could not deliver in times of plenty, it would be foolhardy to expect better in the lean times ahead of us.

Image result for tobago sea bridge break downBut more fundamentally than that, there is the real problem of lack of ownership and recognition of problems to be addressed. By belittling the extent of the problem and also passing it on to the citizens, our leaders are warning us not to look to them for solutions.

We’ve been here before with Tobago affairs. Having been criticized for failure to procure clean audited statement for more than ten years, the Chief Administrator excused their failure in Parliament by putting the blame on recalcitrant staff. It is never the leaders. They have no qualms about throwing their staff, the business community and the citizens under the boss when called upon to account for their failed stewardship.

I have often criticized the oversized footprint of the THA within the Tobago economy, such as it is. Because of that it is exceedingly difficult for the private sector and our citizens to lead us out of this morass that extends to all matters Tobago. The THA has over the years extended its reach into all manner of activities that starved other players of economic space. They can hardly now complain about the weakness of the private business sector.

Yet that is where our salvation surely lies. In the face of all the difficulties posed by an economically dominant and suffocating THA, our small and medium sized businesses must step forward to fill the breach. We have to change our approach as waiting for THA or our erstwhile Minister of Tourism to do so will place us in further jeopardy. We are talking boldly about internal self government in the near future. We delude ourselves if we think this THA administration is about to bequeath anything resembling a buoyant economy to the control of whoever holds the reins when power is transferred. We must begin to address our problems now.

There is only so much that businesses and citizens can do without the support and participation of our leaders. We must therefore ensure that we do everything that limited power. The future of Tobago depends on us. They’re in charge but they do not accept responsibility.

d.walker@alcindorwalker.com and www.straighttalktt.com