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DOUBLE STANDARDS IN TOBAGO AFFAIRS
This writer recalls that soon after the arrival of the T&T Spirit from Australia to join the T&T Express to operate the coastal service between Tobago and Trinidad, there was complete condemnation by the supporters of the then DAC when there was a mechanical failure encountered during a sailing. I remember too well the glee that was demonstrated by the supporters as they suggested that the (PNM) Government had wasted the people’s money in purchasing “that piece of s---.” We of the PNM are happy to re-cord that several years later, most of the people of our twin-island republic are thoroughly satisfied with the reliability and convenience provided by the fast ferries.
These vessels were purchased at the insistence of a PNM-controlled Tobago House of Assembly (THA) whose members had visited the Canary Islands and observed the vessels’ performance in conditions similar to those existing between Trinidad and Tobago. Without these two vessels, there is little doubt that domestic tour-ism would not have achieved the level that it enjoys at this time. Prior to the operation of the first fast ferry, there were approximately 450,000 passengers travelling between Tobago and Trini- dad on the coastal service in the best of years. At the end of 2011, I have been informed, more than one million passengers will use the service.
In 2010, 979,143 passengers travelled by the ferries between the islands. This year there has been about 11 per cent growth on the route to the end of July. When it became necessary for one of these fast ferries to proceed on dock, as it must in order to remain “in class” and be deemed fit to carry passengers in safety, it was customary to have the remaining fast ferry double-up on its sailing schedule. But what about the carriage of cargo between the islands? In light of the floor-loading limitations of the fast ferries, the carriage of heavy equipment on those vessels is restricted and, as a result, the use of the cargo vessel Warrior Spirit is crucial to the domestic transportation by sea.
Unlike the situation with the fast ferries where there are two such vessels, when it becomes necessary for the Warrior Spirit to proceed on dry dock there is no redundancy built into the system to immediately provide back-up facilities to meet cargo demand. Therefore, when in the past the Warrior Spirit had to suspend commercial sailings for whatever reason, it was customary that, at the insistence of the THA’s representative on the Port Authority, the authority would seek additional capacity to meet cargo demand on the route. Barges were frequently used to meet the island’s cargo transportation needs.
However, upon the assumption of control of the Government on May 24, 2010, the UNC coalition, with the encouragement of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), in its usual disrespectful and dismissive style, chose to appoint a board that excluded a representative of the THA—the administration that was elected by Tobagonians to run their affairs until 2013. Clearly this is contrary to the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law, since the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act #40 of 1996 gives the Assembly the responsibility for the sea and airports in Tobago. In fact, over the past 12 or 14 years, the THA enjoyed the respect of every preceding central government and was invited to nominate its representatives to these vitally important inter-island transportation boards.
Why, then, does the current Government expect the THA to control the port and transportation if it does not as a minimum have a representative on the authorities that run these ports? Nonetheless, the UNC, including Ashworth Jack’s TOP, chose a Trinidadian to represent the interests of Tobagonians on the Port Authority. It is therefore not surprising that since the Warrior Spirit proceeded to dry dock several weeks ago, there has been no attempt by the Port Authority to provide alternative capacity to meet the cargo needs of Tobago and the THA has no way of knowing the level of agitation by the Tobago representative on the Port Authority board to ensure that the interests of the people of Tobago are protected. Consequently, the construction industry has been brought to its knees. Several projects have been severely hampered by the failure to get building materials and equipment to the island from Tri-nidad.
We understand that projects which were due to be completed in three months will not be able to be completed before five. Some are saying six. In fact, some contractors have reported laying off workers due to shortage of materials in the building industry. I understand as well that the supply and availability of foodstuff to Tobago have been adversely affected as a result of the absence of the Warrior Spirit on the sea bridge. What has been rather strange and surprising about this situation is the deafening silence of the TOP, the parliamentary representatives of the Tobago East and West constituencies and members of the other business organisations who have been griping privately but have refused to com- ment in public as they did when culpability could have been attributed to the PNM.
But never mind, we are living in times when what was not good for the goose 15 months ago, is now good for the gander—clearly a case of different strokes for different folks. It will be interesting to see how long the population will condone these double standards.
• Most of the people are thoroughly satisfied with the reliability and convenience provided by the fast ferries.
• In the past, barges were frequently used to meet the island’s cargo transportation needs when the Warrior Spirit had to suspend com-mercial sailings.
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