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New Tobago party seeks ‘political democracy’

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, August 17 2014

The newly-formed Tobago Forwards political party intends to contest the next Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, constitutionally due in January 2017.

However, it is not above forming alliances with like-minded entities to establish a vibrant political organisation in Tobago to do so, says the party’s interim chairman Anslem Richards.

“The Tobago Forwards is a starting point for the next THA election but we have no problem holding discussions with interested persons who share our values and philosophies,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

Richards, 48, believes that the party will ensure “political democracy” on the island.

“We are a new political outfit on the horizon in Tobago, committed to Tobagonians and we are moving with courage, spirit and purpose to preserve the political democracy on the island,” he said.

Richards scoffed at the view that Tobago was too small for another political entity, insisting that the issue is not a matter of quantity but one of a willingness and commitment to move the people of the island forward.

He argued that Tobago, because of its small population, cannot withstand the “viciousness” of party politics which currently obtains.

“Parties must be willing to promote a bi-partisan agenda rather than promote division in the society. It is a question of which party will die and which will survive. The process will be decided on what is offered to the island,” Richards said.

Asked about the position of the TOP’s two MPs on the island — Dr Delmon Baker and Vernella Alleyne-Toppin — in relation to the establishment of the Tobago Forwards, Richards would only say:

“They remain members of the TOP until further notice. No doubt they are observing the development of the initiative and may make a decision in due time.”

An economist by profession, Richards was appointed interim chairman of the Tobago Forwards during a meeting of disenchanted Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) members and supporters last Sunday at the Rovanel’s Resort in Crown Point.

The meeting, he said, was the result of months of discussions between the advocacy group, Forward Movement Group of Concerned Members and Supporters of the TOP (from which the Tobago Forwards has emerged) and the TOP’s wider membership.

“We are about offering a product that is second to none, a credible and viable alternative where the people could have a political vehicle to move Tobago into a brighter and more secure future,” Richards said of the Tobago Forwards.

He claims the response to the fledgling party has been positive.

“When I look at the comments on the social media and talk shows on the island, I am getting positive feedback. People are giving me the thumbs up whenever I walk the streets in Scarborough. They seem willing to embrace the opportunity that has been presented to them,” he said.

Richards was the TOP’s representative for Roxborough/Delaford when the party was whitewashed by the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the January 2013 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.

The party, which rode on a wave of popularity when it was launched in 2008, lost its original four seats in the THA in the election, leaving a trail of disillusionment among its 12,000-strong supporters.

Richards claims that many of the TOP’s supporters have found it difficult to bounce back from the overwhelming defeat, hence the decision to start a new entity.

He claimed that even before the election had taken place, the TOP was mandated by its supporters to reform the party in the event of a defeat. Inherent in the mandate, he claimed, was the stipulation that the reformation process would signal an outright rejection of the leader and the party’s leadership.

“The reformation process would have then had to be initiated in a timely fashion to rebuild and make the party palatable and attractive to the Tobago voting public,” he said.

Richards said after the election, TOP leader Ashworth Jack, who lost in his own electoral district, Mason Hall/Providence/Moriah, did not see it fit to begin the reformation process.

“But he tampered with the Constitution of the TOP in the internal elections,” Richards claimed.

The ensuing furore between Jack and dissenting voices in the TOP has resulted in an ongoing legal battle.

The coordinator of the Citizen Security Programme, Tobago Operations, Richards said his involvement in politics emerged from his social and public advocacy, particularly within the THA, where he served as Head of the Policy Research and Development Institute from 2001 to 2007. In that position, the former policeman said he was able to map a development path for Tobago consistent with research gathered from several initiatives. The findings of these initiatives, he said, informed policy documents including the preparation of policy documents.

As a technocrat, Richards was involved in the formulation of the Tobago Development Plan in the THA under both the Hochoy Charles and Orville London administrations.

He said his training in law enforcement also enabled him to function as security adviser to the Chief Secretary in the THA.

Richards said he was also a part of the Reginald Dumas team which sought views on Tobago’s struggle for internal self-government several years ago.

He admits that party politics was never his forte.

“I always kept it at arms length because of its polarising effect, particularly on islands such as Tobago. I mean, for an island that has just 55,000 people, you have people in two camps. That cannot be healthy for Tobagonians,” Richards said.

Richards said he realised that he had to become involved in politics to effect necessary changes. He said that following TOP’s defeat in the THA election, and no attempt by Jack to move the party forward, “we felt it was irresponsible to leave our members with no hope.”

The Forward Movement Group of Concerned Members and Supporters of the TOP held some 16 meetings across the island, none of which were attended by Jack. Richards said members moved a motion of no-confidence in Jack during last Sunday’s meeting at Rovanel’s Resort, which paved the way for a fresh committee to be formed to oversee the TOP’s rebuilding process.

However, he said, it was decided that a new entity should be established altogether given the TOP’s pending court matter.

Richards said the Tobago Forwards has since sought legal status but is still working on its logo, which he hopes will finalised by September 7.

“We have already agreed to something in principle, an appropriate symbol to encapsulate the ideals of Tobagonians. It will be a ‘wow’ moment when it is launched,” he said with a laugh, adding that a graphic artist was working on the design out of Manhattan, New York City.

Richards said the party, which has already embarked on an island membership drive, is hoping to have its launch and internal election before the end of October. Saying that the new party has already formulated a code of conduct to govern its operations, he said members agreed that the party’s finances will be audited and published annually.

“We are not adverse to that. We are about transparency,” he added.

Richards said the Tobago Forwards will also focus heavily on education “so that the child on the island will have the same opportunities as those in other parts of the Caribbean.”

He said considerable attention will also be paid to health care, agro production, the fishing industry and the development of the private sector. Tobago’s status as a largely State-led economy does not augur well for the development of the island, he felt.

“Over 70 percent of the people are employed by the THA and that has serious implications for democracy because you will have a situation where people will be afraid to criticise the Government for fear of victimisation. “So, we have to develop a healthy and robust private sector that is globally competitive to attract young, professional Tobagonians,” he said.

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