Economist: Tobago communities want power to pursue development

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Economist Dr Vanus James –

ECONOMIST Dr Vanus James says communities in Tobago want their rights to be reflected in the Constitution so that they can pursue their own development.

“There is a bill of rights that speaks to individual rights. They want a part of the bill of rights or a supplemental bill of rights to reflect the rights of the communities to pursue their self-determination agenda, looking after themselves rather than depending on anybody else to ensure development,” he said on April 11.

James spoke during the open forum of a public consultation on constitutional reform at the Belle Garden Multipurpose Facility.

The event was hosted by the National Advisory Committee on Constitution Reform, which was set up by the government in January to formulate terms of reference for a national consultation on the issue.

The committee, chaired by former speaker Barendra Sinanan, began its work in March.

James said when he heard the Prime Minister announce the committee, he felt compelled to get his own feedback on what communities would like to see reflected in a new Constitution.

“I thought if we were going to change the Constitution this time around as compared to the first, second and other times, we would need to go to the owners and ask them, ‘How do you want to organise yourselves to govern yourselves as a society?’”

He said he decided to “put his own resources on the deck” to visit communities and get feedback.

James said he compiled an initial draft from activists, village leaders and groups from five communities.

He said all of the communities, as a first step, felt it was time to carry out their own self-determination agenda.

“They complained bitterly about the consequence of not having that in the form of huge amounts of neglect of large parts of Tobago – L’Anse Fourmi, Speyside, Charlotteville, Roxborough; bitter complaints from all of them that they are being left behind because not much power lies in their hands to look after themselves.”

James said they even compared themselves to Canaan/Bon Accord, saying it was the only place they saw development taking place.

“But they are all feeling left behind. So they want community rights to self-determination and empowerment fully reflected in the Constitution.”