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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Last Wednesday, Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie held a symposium at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business to discuss the topic “Breakthrough Strategy for a Sustainable Nation”. The panellists and presenters represented a mix of individuals from academia, business, civil society and labour.

Some of the very significant themes that emerged from the session surrounded issues of nationalism, patriotism, identity, economic strategies, parental care, industrial relations, agriculture, education and tourism among others.

In listening to presenters and panellists alike, it was interesting to note the many references to the “Trini” concept in relation to our way of life. Subconsciously, many of those who use this expression may or may not realise that they are completely obliterating the relevance and/or identity of Tobago.

If we are to make a breakthrough for a sustainable nation, we could perhaps start with this particular phenomenon which is based on the premise of the dominance of Trinidad at the expense of Tobago. In understanding why it is important to recognise this issue as a matter of national consciousness, one has to appreciate the circumstances under which Tobago was forcibly joined to Trinidad under the Trinidad and Tobago Act 1887 and the subsequent Orders-in-Council of 1888 and 1898 that culminated in the complete annihilation of Tobago’s individuality and status into the union of the two islands in 1899.

A sustainable nation needs to recognise the historical injustice meted out to Tobago and will have to address Tobago’s right to self-determination. Any future legislation on the issue of full internal self-government for Tobago must grant this either through referendum on the island or in its legislative provisions.

Indeed, on a related matter to this, Gregory Aboud spoke about the historical fact that the THA had fought for the removal of limitations on access by Tobagonians to Pigeon Point and were now seemingly supportive of the Sandals Group taking over prime real estate in Tobago in which they will undoubtedly exclude Tobagonians from gaining access to the property.

The issue of nationalism and patriotism cannot just simply be sprung upon this discourse on a breakthrough strategy for a sustainable nation without also examining the circumstances of how we became an independent nation. Trinidad and Tobago were supposed to become independent as part of the Federation of the West Indies for which an independence conference was held at Lancaster House in March 1961. Following that, the Jamaican electorate were afforded the opportunity of self-determination through a referendum in September 1961 on whether or not Jamaica should become independent as a member of the Federation or should secede from the Federation (a modern day Jamexit). They voted in favour of Jamexit.

Trinidad and Tobago had no such choices in respect of its exit from the Federation. An independent nation-state was to be formed after a decision was made by the General Council of the People’s National Movement on January 14, 1962 to call on the government to withdraw from the proposed Federation of the Eastern Caribbean that was being negotiated in the aftermath of Jamaica’s decision. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Reginald Maudling, was informed of this the day after his arrival in Trinidad on January 13, 1962. In the general election of December 4, 1961, it was not known whether national independence would come under a federal umbrella or on our own.

Constitutionally, a draft independence constitution was prepared by Sir Ellis Clarke and published on February 19, 1962. Then the Queen’s Hall Conference on that draft constitution was held between April 27th and 29th, 1962; a Joint Select Committee of both Houses considered the amended draft constitution between April 30th and May 16th, 1962; the Marlborough House Independence Conference was held between May 28th and June 8th, 1962 and, bingo, we became independent on August 31st, 1962 with a national anthem that was an amended version of “Song for Federation” that had also been composed by Pat Castagne.

We were no longer going to be citizens of a nation-state that was to be called “The West Indies,” but instead became citizens of a nation-state called “Trinidad and Tobago”. Unlike Jamaica, we were never afforded the right to self-determination on whether or not we wanted to stay in the Federation. Our decision was made for us by the General Council of the PNM on 14th January, 1962.

At the symposium, businessman Richard Lewis suggested that we should seek to emulate Jamaica in respect of patriotism and visit a particular Jamaican website for an example of how that country is turning itself around. There are tremendous differences between us and Jamaica given our different histories on how we became stand-alone independent nation-states.

Gregory Aboud and Nirvan Maharaj both made references to constitutional matters at the symposium. That was indeed a significant factor to be raised at such a forum. They need to appreciate that both Dr Eric Williams and Sir Ellis Clarke sought, as far as possible, to emulate the Westminster system for our system of government. We got it. Recent experiences showed that changing it will not happen soon because of the fear of change itself.


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