LONDON: RENEW OUR CONTRACT
By Sasha Harrinanan Monday, January 7 2013
Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and political leader of the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) Tobago Council, Orville London, yesterday made an impassioned appeal to Tobagonians to “renew” the PNM’s contract on January 21 because of what he called the party’s “loyalty and commitment” to the social and economic development of all Tobagonians.
One of the main reasons cited by the Chief Secretary for “contract renewal” was the THA’s purchase of large parcels of land over the past ten years of his time in office, and more recently a $90 million investment in property in Courland for the construction of houses due to be delivered in late 2013.
“We are asking, and our contract should be renewed, because we delivered and we have the capacity to continue to deliver...When we came into office in 2001, Tobagonians were bereft of opportunity, whether it was in education (or) social services...Now we can boast of an expenditure of over $100 million so that 1,600 Tobagonians were able to access tertiary level education.”
London was the feature speaker yesterday evening at Market Square, Scarborough, at a rally hosted by the Tobago Council to formally present its 12 candidates for the upcoming THA election.
The Tobago Organisation of the People has raised questions about the THA acquisition of properties and London himself has been the subject of claims made by National Security Minister Jack Warner that he has seven houses and a gas station.
London again denied Warner’s allegations saying, “You can’t hide seven houses and a gas station.”
On the THA’s land policy under the PNM, London said the goal has been to increase local land ownership on the island.
“We must also take credit for the building up of the Tobago land heritage because when you come from good Tobago stock, one of the things about which you’re very aware is that he who owns the land owns the country,” London declared.
“If you are to develop, whether as an individual, an island or as a country,” he said, “you’ve got to have access to land. That is why over the past ten years this Tobago House of Assembly has spent somewhere in the vicinity of $700 million in acquiring properties in Tobago. Already those properties have been put to use.”
One such property was Courland Estate, which London yesterday revealed was purchased “some years ago” at a cost of $90 million.
“If we had not purchased Courland at that time, (it) would have been owned by Colombians today. Now that we own Courland Estate, on which many of our ancestors would have laboured for pittance, we are actually ‘lotifying’ it and within six to eight months, the people of Tobago would be able to occupy lots (there),” London stated.
He also revealed the THA, under his administration, recently bought more than 60 acres of land in Mt Pleasant, for which it has already obtained permission from Town and Country Planning to build 400 houses there.
“There are some designs available, and that project should start in 2013. That is the kind of thing we’re doing, so when people think we’re buying land just to ‘hog’ it, we are in fact purchasing the land in the interest of the people of Tobago. All the major projects in which they have been engaged are projects which benefit Tobagonians now and will continue to benefit Tobagonians in the future.”
London left the PNM supporters with one question to ponder in the remaining two weeks before they go to the polls: “Will you be better off under a TOP administration in Tobago?”
A resounding “No” came from those present at Market Square and London told them to spread the word to their fellow Tobagonians that when it comes time to cast their ballot, consider that their quality of life and the state of affairs in Tobago have improved in comparison to parts of Trinidad and other Caribbean islands.
“We are very fortunate that our quality of life has improved to that extent. It is ironic that in a situation where ten years ago, many individuals in Tobago did not have a bicycle and did not own a home, 12 years after they have an upstairs and downstairs house with two cars in the garage. Yet we have people in Tobago, when Kamla Persad-Bissessar asked the question, ‘Are you better off today than you were in 2001?’ they say a resounding ‘No.’ I am saying you are better off today because we did it together.”
PNM political leader and Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley also addressed the crowd at Market Square. Speaking shortly before London, he criticised the People’s Partnership (PP) Government for its “lack of class” in choosing to bring an important piece of legislation on Tobago to Parliament in the middle of the THA election.
“The high point of vulgarity, as we have never seen before in the political business of this country. The lack of class, the crassness that washes this country sees a government calling Parliament (on) Monday to lay a Bill to give Tobago self-government.”
Rowley was referring to the Constitutional (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2012 which will be tabled in Parliament today. Debate is set to begin on January 16. Aside from the poor timing, Rowley also blasted the Persad-Bissessar administration for its lack of manners in informing the Opposition of the Bill’s contents before today’s sitting.
“I have no idea what the Government is going to lay in the Parliament...Contrast that with my approach to the Government in 2010, when we voted for the budget and worked with them in committees on major legislation. Shouldn’t we have expected from the Government a little bit of courtesy, a little bit of decency on a major matter like amending the constitution of this country to change the arrangement between Trinidad and Tobago?”Rowley warned his fellow Tobagonians not to allow the TOP or its coalition members in the PP to turn the issue of greater autonomy of the THA into an election issue when, in his opinion, the platform topic should really be how TOP political leader, Ashworth Jack, was able to afford his large home through the sale of pumpkins and other vegetables grown on-site.
“Ashworth Jack and a few other people, including the heinous (Attorney General) Anand Ramlogan, (Justice Minister) Christlyn Moore and other people who don’t understand...want you to believe that the election issue is not a man who can’t explain how pumpkin does turn into mansion (but) that this lady (Prime Minister), this giver of gifts, is going to give you this gift of self-government.”
Rowley declared that self-governance was something achieved in a step-by-step manner, not on a political platform. He cited the progression from county council to the THA Act of 1980, to the amendment under then Prime Minister ANR Robinson and the NAR, to the present-day THA.
“This is to be civilised process, it is not to be an election gimmick of the TOP.”
The Opposition Leader also denounced appeals by the Prime Minister, during the TOP rally last week, for the PNM to support the Bill.
“Before I see it, they are demanding that I must vote for it. You hear them? Rowley and the PNM must vote for it because they know if they put stupidness in the Parliament and we don’t vote for it, they can come back to Tobago and lie to you. Tell you that the reason why we didn’t vote for it, is that we are against self-government.
“That is the plan but I want to put you on notice and put them on notice,” Rowley declared, “that we of the PNM are a responsible political party and under no pressure, under no pushing, will we enact any legislation that will damage Tobago people’s interest.”