straight to the point – from different points of view

About Tobago autonomy

About Tobago autonomy

I have listened to the often fraught discussions about Tobago autonomy with interest. I have tried to understand the differing desires and suggestions of the various parties. I was left bewildered and confused by the competing views and demands on offer.

What is clear is that there are many versions of what is meant by autonomy. If each person has a different perspective of what autonomy is or should be, then agreement becomes nearly impossible. My desire therefore, would be for there to be discussion if not agreement at the outset as to what is meant by autonomy. Instead we are arguing about how to reach the destination before first establishing the coordinates of the destination.

For my part I would like to see a broad reversal of the current legal situation under the Tobago House of Assembly Act. In that Act, central government has full control over Tobago affairs save and apart from specific areas defined in a schedule in the Act. My preference would be for Tobago to have control of all its affairs except those designated in a schedule to remain under central government. Tobago would have primacy rather than central government as is the case now.

There appears to be a definition of the boundaries of Tobago in the proposed legislation. I support the principle but remain open to discussion abut its definition. I would also like to see much more detail abut financial arrangements. The proposal of a continued allocation to Tobago of a fixed percentage goes against the grain of autonomy in my view. If not immediately, there should be some plan for financial unshackling of Tobago from central government. That should cover both income and expenditure. Political autonomy without financial autonomy is an oxymoron.

Autonomy ideally should be open ended in the sense that it should give citizens the right to choose their future political and legislative frameworks. It should rule nothing out and should not tie the hands of citizens now or in the future.

Since all parties, and indeed individuals within those parties each has a unique perspective of what autonomy means and what the goal is, we cannot expect agreement across the board. Having a different view from any of the current politicians does not necessarily come from political allegiances as many seem to infer. It can be seen as coming genuinely from a different understanding of what autonomy means and what it should deliver.

Tobago as a whole does appear to want a significant degree of autonomy from central government. The proposed legislation partly achieves that. I consider it to fall short in some areas but still regard it as a step forward and one that we should take. As long that is, as Tobago remains largely free to continue in whatever direction its citizens choose in the future.

David Walker

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