Wednesday 9th March 2005

 
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Privileged Tobago

Prime Minister Patrick Manning has been reported as saying to the media and the public of Tobago: “Whatever Tobago wants, Tobago gets.”

Mr Manning might claim that he was speaking in the context of the heavy rains and landslips caused last year by a short slap delivered by Hurricane Ivan that went on to devastate neighbouring Grenada. But there can be no doubt that Manning was using the disaster to begin the campaigning that in January was to decide the election for control of the Tobago House of Assembly.

The result was that the PNM won 11 of the 12 seats in the THA and decimated all opposition in the sister isle.

The unbiased will remember the weekly flooding in the Caparo Basin and television images of women and girls lifting their skirts in the rain and walking through the flooded main roads in their bare panties.

Manning could have said: “Whatever Caparo wants, Caparo gets.” But then Caparo is in central Caroni and is firmly in the grip of the UNC.

The people of Barrackpore have been suffering constant flooding with the destruction of all roads leading in and out of this vast agricultural district. But Barrackpore is not in Tobago, so the people must continue to live in a state of neglect.

In the Debe/Penal catchment, houses have been washed away and whole districts have been placed under floodwaters repeatedly. Hardest hit were the farmers who lost their crops and were offered $41 compensation by the Minister of Agriculture, Jarrette Narine.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the price of bhaigan (aubergine) is $5 a pound and eddoes are now king of the market stalls at $6 a pound.

And now Tobago wants an additional parliamentary seat as we debate the need to elect 41 instead of the usual 36 constituencies that created the 18-18 parliamentary deadlock.

In Tobago itself there is opposition to the additional seat by the former Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles, who says “it is not in Tobago’s best interest. Additional seats are not advantageous to Tobago.

“One additional seat will not fix the airbridge, seabridge or put an end to the many problems that have bedevilled the people of Tobago all these years. Look at how many seats the opposition has and if the Government does not approve what the opposition ask for they won’t get it” (Newsday, February 23).

The Maha Sabha opposed an additional seat for Tobago because the numbers do not warrant this 50 per cent increase. An additional seat will establish that the Tobago voter has greater weight with his vote than the voter in Trinidad.

The report of the EBC on the parliamentary elections held on October 7, must form the basis for the realignment of constituencies and the allocation of additional seats. The gerrymandering of constituency boundaries have been a consistent complaint of opposition parties.

The sister isle has two constituencies at present. Tobago East has an electorate of 17,290 and only 9,877 cast their votes in the 2002 election. Tobago West has 19,319 electors and only 10,497 cast their votes in the last elections.

When compared to Trinidad constituencies, Tobagonians already have greater weight with their ballot.

In Trinidad, the Ortorie/Mayaro constituency has 27,233 electors and 21,907 cast their votes in the last election. The figure tells us that more people voted in Ortorie/Mayaro than the combined ballot cast in the Tobago East and West constituencies.

The Caroni Central constituency for which Hamza Rafeez was elected has 28,202 on its electoral list and we see that 20,452 electors cast their votes—more than the combined total of 20,374 in the two Tobago constituencies.

This pattern repeats itself in a number of constituencies in Trinidad. Arouca holds 27,194 and Arouca South, 28,599 electors. Caroni East holds 28,874 and Chaguanas 28,347. In fact, every single constituency in Trinidad is already much larger than either Tobago East or Tobago West.

While Orville London, Chief Secretary of the THA, and the PNM are clamouring for an additional seat for Tobago, the voting indicates that the Tobagonian electorate is not even keen to exercise his franchise. In the last election, out of a total electorate of 875,260, those who cast their votes number 609,571. This is equivalent to 69.64 per cent.

But in Tobago, out of a total electorate 36,609, only 20,374 exercised their franchise. This is equivalent to 56 per cent of the Tobago electorate—well below the national average.

Tobago is apathetic to the electoral process!

SATNARAYAN MAHARAJ is the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha

 

 

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