“Provocation, that’s what I call that Green Paper.” That’s the view of THA Chief Secretary and PNM leader Orville London while speaking with the T&T Guardian last week. He said: “It seeks to undermine the THA’s autonomy, to diminish it, and takes Tobago right back to the pre-1996 era. “The irony of this is the TOP, which is party to this Green Paper, is a descendant of ANR Robinson and Hochoy (Charles), who fought for Tobago’s autonomy. “But the TOP and PP are now undermining the power these men obtained for Tobago.” London said he and other Tobagonians feared people might not stand up for Tobago’s autonomy, since they had noted that the TOP “doesn’t disagree with anything the PP says.” London said the PP’s Green Paper undermined the provisions of the White Paper on constitutional reform, which he said was done years ago by island technocrats, including former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas, former Independent senator, Eastlyn McKenzie, and others.
The Government, however, in issuing the Green Paper for public comment this week, noted that Dumas was also the architect of the PP paper. Still, London is adamant the White Paper on the issue, produced by Dumas and the other technocrats years before, is more in sync with what Tobagonians need. He explains: “The Green Paper basically emanates from a group of private citizens and was given to Cabinet by the THA’s Minority Leader. “The previous document was the result of four years of consultation with thousands of Tobagonians,” London added: “We say, for instance, the THA should have responsibility for all functions relating to the administration of Tobago, save the 11 functions retained by Central Government. “We also want eight per cent of the national budget and the capacity to borrow for development expenditure.” He also says the PNM proposes to increase the island’s nautical border to 100 miles, while the TOP’s suggestion of a ten-mile radius will restrict the expansion of the economy. Despite that, the PP is taking up the Manning administration’s idea of extending the natural-gas pipeline up the Caribbean.
But, London said, the TOP’s proposal of a ten-nautical-mile economic zone would hamper that project, as well as limiting Tobago’s potential benefits from other marine resources.
He said there also were problems with the fibre-optic cable between Trinidad and Tobago and outages were frequent despite the generation capacity of the Cove Industrial Park. Several factory shells at the Cove are being completed for business, he said. Tobago’s economy, though feeling the pinch of global recession, had seen a slight increase in visitor arrivals in the last few months, London said, lauding the new Magdalena resort for providing the required conditions to woo upscale markets. London has presided for the last decade as PNM Tobago leader and over the PNM’s achievements in Tobago, chief of which is the $725 million Scarborough Hospital, construction of which began in 2003. Several other projects, including the cultural centre (which is nearing completion), indoor sporting facility and others are not yet finished. But London also is proud of training programmes which the THA launched since 2010, though Tobago Opposition members see this as a vote-winning ploy for the polls ahead.
As for being Chief Secretary again, he said: “I’d say yes. I might not have a choice.” He says the PNM was in a much better political place in Tobago now than it was six months ago, thanks to the PP administration’s faux pas, foul-ups and failures. He said: “Tobago people are seeing for themselves what the PP in Trinidad is doing and what TOP, which is part of the Partnership, will be capable of inflicting on them if given a chance. “Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, for instance, is our greatest asset,” London said with a laugh, noting Alleyne-Toppin’s recent problems with a Government credit card. The PNM has been holding a series of meetings, entitled “Feeling the Pain”, up to the previous weekend, to prepare for the polls. Candidate selection is also on the PNM’s immediate priority list. PNM Tobago council chairman, Neil Wilson, said: “People feel PNM is taking this lying down but when we emerge, it will be an attack. We’re not surrendering.”