June 6, 2012 issue

Trinidad & Tobago

PP focuses on Tobago
Upcoming THA elections at top of agenda
Wayne Kublalsingh
By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain - The political battle for Tobago took off last week with the People's Partnership and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar leading members of her two-year-old government on a celebratory rally throughout the island.
This is all about elections and the Tobago House of Assembly. Elections are not constitutionally due until early 2013. However, early moves by the PP and others suggest that this is going to be a long campaign. It may also be a hard-fought and bitter battle.
As it stands, the PP has the majority in Parliament with 29 seats, with the Opposition People's National Movement holding 12.
Back in 2010, when Persad-Bissessar had newly assumed office, she had indicated the circle was not yet complete.
Former THA chief secretary Hochoy Charles recalled that statement only last week when he said the government's moves of late — having Cabinet meetings in Tobago — suggest it wants to dominate the political landscape there.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The PP's plans for Tobago are being made against the backdrop of talk of self-governance for the tourism-dependent island. On June 2, Carol-Ann Birchwood-James said Tobago's tourism industry was yet to recover from the 2008 global meltdown — its key markets were Europe and the United Kingdom — and that several hotels are going into receivership due to poor visitor arrivals.
She said Tobago, which has a shortage of hotel rooms in general, especially luxury rooms, will suffer as a hotel in receivership means a reduction in Tobago's room stock.
Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz said in order to revive a "fledgling" tourist industry, Tobago needs 1,200 new rooms.
Speaking at the May 31 post-Cabinet news conference, which was held at the newly-revived Magdalena Grand Resort, Cadiz said the government will implement several initiatives to increase the "tourism plant".
"Since 2005 the tourism sector has been in a decline in Tobago. One of the things which will remedy this was an upgraded tourism plant - the quality and quantity of hotel rooms," Cadiz said.
He said one move made to improve the "tourism plant" was the restoration of the 200-room Magdalena Grand Resort.
"Since purchase three years ago, the resort has been left vacant. Where it was suppose to add to the island's room stock, it was left idle and in ruin. In less than five months, we were able to restore it. From January 1, we were able to accommodate guests," Cadiz said.
Cadiz said the government will also implement a guarantee programme for investors interested in developing the "tourism plant" in Tobago, where their investment will be guaranteed up to 70 percent.
"The Tobago Tourism Development Fund would also be in a position to keep a lot of businesses afloat. We will work with the banks with a view of extension on facilities and encourage the growth of new hotels," Cadiz said.
He explained that a number of owners do not have the sufficient funds to renovate their existing hotels.
"For many years, with the arrival figures declining, they cannot reinvest. This new guarantee will cover the construction of new and existing plants also," Cadiz said.
On June 1, Persad-Bissessar's Cabinet was in Tobago for the opening of the government-owned Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, Tobago's largest hotel. The 750-acre luxury resort was formerly known as Plantation Villas.
Much of Tobago has historically been PNM territory. However, in the 2010 general election, Tobago's two seats were captured by the Tobago Organisation of the People. It became one of the five parties to form the PP coalition.
In April, the PP government commissioned the new Scarborough General Hospital at a cost of (TT) $735 million.
Construction of the hospital started in 2003, but was beset by problems that contractor Emile Elias of NH International could not solve. That matter went to arbitration.
The project was given to China Railway Construction Company, which is completing the hospital in phases.
Emerging victorious in the THA election will really be a feather in Persad-Bissessar's cap. It will solidify her changes of getting a second term as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
Persad-Bissessar, considered politically savvy by admirers and detractors alike, is also working to solidify the PP's presence in Trinidad.
Persad-Bissessar, who disarms many by her sweet smile but gives nothing away, is going full steam ahead to extend the Solomon Hochoy Highway from San Fernando to Pt Fortin, which is PNM heartland.
It is a billion-dollar project with more than just a few hurdles. Homes and businesses have to be relocated.
Many families, predominantly East Indians, are upset with Persad-Bissessar over her government's decision to route the 47-kilometre highway through Debe and Mon Desir.
Those opposed to being displaced to make way for the highway have now formed the Highway Reroute Movement.
On the May 30 Indian Arrival Day holiday Persad-Bissessar arrived at Parvati Girls' Hindu School in Penal to members of the Highway Reroute Movement there to greet her. It was not a pretty sight.
On June 1, speaking to the media following the hotel opening in Tobago, Persad-Bissessar assured that the concerns of the group who are opposed to the construction of the Mon Desir to Debe segment of the Point Fortin Highway are being addressed.
She reminded the protesting residents she had met with them previously for more than two hours and gave her word that work will not proceed until technical advice was received.
On Indian Arrival Day, a group of women led by environmentalist Wayne Kublalsingh staged a protest outside the Parvati Girls Hindu College in Penal.
Persad-Bissessar did not meet with the women. Instead, they were physically removed by the police.
Persad-Bissessar said protestors' views were taken into consideration and all work with respect to the Mon Desir section of the highway was stopped pending technical advice.
"I did meet with them together with a team of Ministers of the Parliament. I don't know if I recall the exact date. In fact, we met for almost two hours, they shared their views, I explained to them I do not have the technical expertise and, therefore, discussions should go with the technical persons in the Ministry of Works," said Persad-Bissessar.
She noted that Works and Infrastructure Minister Jack Warner also met with the group.
"I'm advised they have not taken advantage of that open invitation for dialogue, both myself and thereafter Mr Warner had said to the group," she said. "We had put the Debe to Mon Desir section on hold for review and that is still the position."
In a statement issued on May 31, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said the protests of the Highway Re-route Movement can only be deemed as a means of gaining publicity rather than arriving at a resolution to the concerns of the Debe residents.
Moonilal said the Prime Minister's style of leadership is one of "open dialogue and collaboration."
Kublalsingh heads the Highway Reroute Movement. He has led protests against the previous administration's plan to build an aluminum smelter in Union Estate.
He is known for his unorthodox, determined and aggressive style of protest. On April 11, he was forcibly removed from the Environmental Management Authority building in St Clair after he staged a six-hour sit-in.
"Demanding random meetings in the midst of staged protests conveys the impression that no audience with the Prime Minister and government officials has taken place," Moonilal said. "The protests also do not reveal that an open invitation to further consultations have been declined by Mr Kubalsingh."


PM claims 'bullying tactics'
by Tobago leader
Chief Secretary Orville London

Port-of-Spain - Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London is trying to "bully" the People's Partnership government into approving "carte blanche," two bills he submitted to her to establish internal self-government for the island.
Persad-Bissessar made the charge to thousands of supporters at the partnership's second anniversary rally and launch of the Tobago Organisation of the People's THA election campaign 2013 at Market Square in Scarborough last Saturday night. Persad-Bissessar was again serenaded by calypsonian Sugar Aloes on stage, who sang Tarrus Riley's 'She's Royal'.
Aloes, whose real name is Michael Osuna, said before his performance that the song was dedicated to all the beautiful women of the world. The calypsonian, who is a noted PNM supporter and UNC critic, made a shock appearance on the PP platform at their first celebrations on May 24 in Chaguanas.
Persad-Bissessar said London was behaving like "a cry-cry baby" in recent months. "Every day you open the newspaper, he is crying about something else," she said. "He is crying about two papers (bills) he sent to me, he is crying (because) he wants to meet me."
The PM then explained why she had to give the THA bills for the consideration and recommendation of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. She noted that Ramlogan was the legal adviser to the government. "So I send the two bills to the Attorney General to consider and advise."
Persad-Bissessar said the bills were passed in the assembly, which was unconstitutional. She said only Parliament can change laws relating to the Constitution and not the THA. "So they are in breach of the THA Act, they're in violation of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, and then want to bully the Prime Minister and bully the Cabinet to take it and pass it wholesale," she added.
"I will not break the law of Trinidad and Tobago."
She said the AG had advised "that a new THA law cannot come before or at the same time as you are seeking to amend the Constitution. You have to amend the Constitution first and it is only when we change that then you could put in the other arrangements."
She said the PNM was never interested in ensuring Tobagonians got internal self-government. She also noted that the THA bills, which were approved by the PNM-controlled assembly, did not even have the words "internal self-government" written in them. She said the THA bills were "inadequate and, in any event, it puts the horse before the cart... The THA bills must be influenced and informed by the Constitution reform and not the other way around."
The PM said it was for that reason the PP government put out a draft constitutional bill in its Green Paper to look at it. "Mr London has been trying to bully us, demanding that his two bills represent the will of the people of Tobago," she said. "He says this is what Tobagonians want and the government must just carry it to Parliament and pass it carte blanche. But his argument is totally false."
She said she was advised that the people of Tobago "were never given an opportunity to examine, pronounce, comment or make recommendations on the two bills that I received from Mr London."
Persad-Bissessar said the reports from three separate teams, led by Tobagonians Reginald Dumas, John Prince and Christo Gift on the issue of constitutional reform "show clearly that the people of Tobago want internal self-government within the sovereign democratic Republic of Trinidad and Tobago."
She said the PP government is committed to ensuring Tobago gets internal self-government. She added that Tobago will get its fair share after there was constitutional reform in Trinidad and Tobago.
The theme of Saturday's rally was "Putting Tobago first." She said Ramlogan wrote to London on two occasions last year seeking his collaboration on the matter but the THA chief declined. She said instead London publicly "demanded that the central government carry out his legislative agenda, taking the two bills unaltered and pass them carte blanche in the Parliament."
Persad-Bissessar later said she wanted to assure London "that the work and contributions which came out of the process (constitutional reform) would receive the fullest and most detailed consideration of the Law Reform Commission as the process evolve from the Green Paper stage to the White Paper stage which then goes to make the law of the land." 
The PM said former prime minister Patrick Manning and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley never really wanted internal self-government for Tobago. She said the PP government "will make sure that we do not prevent Tobago from getting internal self-government...we will not give up on this commitment to you."


Duty-free zone welcomed
Port-of-Spain - Making Tobago a duty-free zone should encourage significant tourism and investment activity on the island, Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president Nicholas Hardwicke has said.
Hardwicke said it was "no question" that duty-free shopping is a large part of the modern-day visitor experience, and had done very well for other islands.
"We have not had that facility in Tobago. The type of shops on the island don't support this type of leisure activity. We think it will be a significant development for the visiting community, an interesting opportunity for retailers and entrepreneurs, as well as provide employment opportunities," he said.
Last Friday, during the official opening of the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort in Lowlands, Tobago, and again during a political rally on Saturday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced plans to encourage tourism on the island by making the island a duty-free zone. She also said the government was exploring the feasibility of introducing the island's first marina that will operate to international standards.
"Constructing marinas will be a very positive development," said Hardwicke.
"We are renowned for being outside the active hurricane zone, unlike a lot of other islands; we produce a lot of raw materials on this island that yachties need, and at lower costs, so there is no reason that with the right facilities, Tobago cannot become one of the more premier leisure and pleasure craft mooring facilities in the region," he added.
Persad-Bissessar had also noted that Cabinet had approved the establishment of the Tobago Tourism Development Fund as a full State enterprise with immediate capitalisation of (TT) $100 million and annual contributions for the next three years of $50 million, to total $250 million.
"We were a bit exasperated that it has taken this long because since last November we made the point very clearly that things need to be done within three months, and, as you can see, it's taken close to seven. But still the fact it has come about is very welcome. We would have liked to see more funds committed but that's something we will have to discuss with Government as we go along."
More $ for Tobago Tourism

Port-of-Spain - In endorsing Ashworth Jack, political leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People, as the next Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a number of goodies for the sister isle, including the appointment of tourism attaches at foreign embassies to market Tobago.
The Prime Minister placed Tobago on an election footing as she urged the people to not vote blindly in the THA elections, which are constitutionally due January next year.
Tobagonians came out in their numbers at a mass public meeting at Old Market Square, Scarborough, where the People's Partnership held its second anniversary celebrations.
It was also the launch of the TOP election campaign, as every speaker on the platform chastised THA Chief Secretary Orville London and endorsed Jack as the incoming THA head.
Persad-Bissessar told the crowd that after years of "People's National Movement neglect", her government was committed to putting Tobago first. She announced that as part of the government's thrust to boost tourism and investments in Tobago, tourism attaches would be appointed at diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom, New York and Toronto.
"To develop Tobago as a premier tourist destination, we will establish the post of a tourism attache, a diplomatic attache, based at the Trinidad and Tobago embassy in London upon consultation with stakeholders in Tobago...we'll make similar appointments thereafter in New York and Toronto," said Persad-Bissessar.
"They will have the responsibility of marketing Tobago especially in the UK and European markets," said Persad-Bissessar as she noted that most of the tourists staying at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort were from these areas.
Persad-Bissessar also addressed the contentious issue of regularisation of Tobago land titles. She noted that a committee was established to deal with this problem in December 2010, which held consultations with Tobagonians on the issue.
Some 87 percent of land owners do not have paper titles, she said, adding that the Registrar General's Department in Tobago has beefed up personnel and systems so that applications to bring lands under the Registration of Titles Act (called RPO) are now filed in Tobago and can take mere months, rather than years once all requirements are met.
Persad-Bissessar said the Land Registration System, first passed in the year 2000, needs to be amended and made operational through regulations to provide a compulsory and speedier system of land registration.
An islandwide survey, she added, of all landholdings in Tobago is currently being implemented to determine how many people already had titles and how many can be given title under the existing RPO, or how many must be solved when the new system comes into effect.
She said officials will be visiting homes across Tobago to collect data from residents, relating to their ownership status.
The government is committed to working with urgency to complete the introduction of a new registration system in which Tobago will be the pilot project, she noted.

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