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Tobago Wants More Balance of Power
Posted: Monday, September 6, 2004

By Stephen Kangal

It is clear that the Assembly resolution piloted and passed in the THA without Hochoy Charles' NAR support was acting on proxy from and inspired by its political partners (the PNM) in the mainland calling for Tobago to be afforded an adequate" level and ratio of representation" in Parliament. The initiative is being engineered to strengthen the crucial balance of power position currently exercised by the two Tobago seats in the House. This political imbalance being wielded by Tobago is qualitatively and politically superior when compared to the 1966 situation having regard to the new configuration and distribution of parliamentary seats in Trinidad. And this while the Orville London PNM administration continues to be a law unto itself infringing some of the tenets of accountability and transparency in administering its own exclusive autonomy under the THA Act. No other Local Government entity exercises such autonomy and internal independence.

Post-1966 when the THA Act came into force, Tobago has now been allocated more than one-tenth of the National Budget in direct and indirect allocations. THA Chief Secretary/CEO Orville London empowered with the perks of his ministerial rank and de facto Cabinet membership, deludes himself and by extension Tobagonians into believing that Trinis and the EBC are nave enough to fall for his so-called"compelling arguments" that the extra seat the THA desires"is non-politically partisan", is based on"rationality" and equality. London confuses equality with equity.

Rationality has taken on a new meaning. For London it is the need to accord Tobago 'greater political impact" over and above its THA autonomy, self-governance and the largesse it now dispenses in the sister-isle through its exploitation of its political leverage within the ranks of the PNM. The THA is entitled to maximise its gains within its unitary status with Trinidad but not with the compliance of and at the expense of Trinidad. Since when 870,745 electors in Trinidad are the same as 37,863 in Tobago?

The two Tobago parliamentary seats now exercise a balancing power position and clout in national politics that is way out of proportion to the size of its electorate/population and fundamentally more enhanced and more advantageous than the"ratio and level" of 1966. For Chief Secretary London the 1966 political scenario (when two seats were determined) is the benchmark year for anchoring his arguments supportive of an additional seat. He studiously avoids referring to Tobago's fundamental political and economic emancipation since then. That is the"arithmetic of the geography of Tobago" to which he panders and which escapes me try as hard I can. For the Chief Secretary the 130% increase in the size of the respective electorate is part of his compelling reason without being honest enough to admit that in 1966 the electors per constituency in Tobago was 8113 while it was 13,047 in Trinidad. In respect of Tobago the EBC could not find" any good reason to recommend an increase to its existing allocation." It also declared that it was not necessary.

Tobago is allowed to practice geographic discrimination against mainland Trinidadians in the disbursement of funds/award of fellowships from the Treasury. It is afforded preferential status at UWI both in student enrolment and admission criteria. That will be further entrenched when the UTT comes on stream.

In 1956 Tobago was allocated one seat that APT James commandeered. In 1966 it was increased to two with each seat averaging an 8,113 electorate but having no political leverage owing to the dominance of the PNM in the mainland. The real balance of power position of Tobago's two crucial seats manifested itself in 1995 when it threw its two seats of ANR Robinson and Sister Pam Nicholson into the UNC/NAR Coalition Government to reap enormous political dividends including the Presidency. In 2001 its one PNM seat was crucial in the 18-18 tie that resulted in the PNM being invited to form the Government. With two seats in the October 2002 elections Tobago became the real power broker. Accordingly what greater political impact can Tobago aspire to if not to entrench the PNM Government by making assurance doubly sure by this additional seat.

At present there is a total electorate of 37,863 in Tobago with each seat averaging 18,932 (17,836 in East and 20,027 in the West). That electoral figure is 15% below the average for Trinidad where the average per seat is 22,327. It is to be noted that irrespective of the size of the electorate Tobago under Article 70(2) of the 1976 Constitution is entitled to a minimum of two seats.

Any back door, anti-EBC one seat increase to Tobago effected by a Cabinet's politically motivated strategic intervention is a dangerous precedent at manipulation and politicisation of the EBC Report. It will be a prescription for the tail to wag the dog, to give more to those who hath already and further empower Tobagonians politically, while flaunting their political and legal autonomy post-1966 to increase their control over and unjustifiably determine the political affairs in the ethnically diversified mainland.

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