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INDEPENDENT COMMENTARY ESSENTIAL IN NATION-BUILDING

Published: 
Monday, March 14, 2011
Martin George

I was on a Caribbean cruise recently and could not help but notice that of all the destinations marketed by the cruise line, Trinidad and Tobago was the least mentioned, marketed and spoken about.  The ship actually docked in Tobago and it was embarrassing to see how poorly Tobago stacked up against some of the other weaker Caribbean territories, who have all pulled their resources together to get their arrival ports organised, efficient and properly structured, with lots of high-end duty-free shopping, hundreds of well packaged and professionally presented trinkets and tokens for purchase as souvenirs or mementoes.  

Discussing it with someone, they suggested that my column would be a useful and valuable forum through which I can express my views.  It is a column in which I try to share and discuss ideas to stimulate debate, discussion and eventual growth for nation building. On the ship’s video on Tobago they appeared to be struggling to find things to say to promote Tobago as a viable and exciting destination, and the reality is clear, there just is not much going on in Tobago by way of tourism. 

I have said it so many times that it has become my trademark definition; tourism is “finding ways to pleasantly separate a visitor from his money and letting him and his family have such a fantastic time while doing so, that they want to come back and they recommend the place to others.”  Once you are able to do this then you are well on your way to the establishment of a proper tourist industry because all the pieces will begin to fall into place. 

I have been speaking out and writing about this for years and make no apologies.  So, people like the poor, misguided, letter writer in the Sunday Guardian two weeks ago who mistakenly felt that someone in my position should not be expressing such strong views.  I respectfully disagree because if we are all interested in nation-building and making this country a better place, then we must be willing to stand up and speak out and to stick by our beliefs and values.  So when I criticise the THA for its mishandling or mismanagement of the Tobago economy, it has nothing to do with the personalities or the parties in power, it has to do with the issue of trying to make a contribution to building T&T.

We will not always agree or share the same opinions, but it is by robust intellectual debate and discourse we will distill the ideas, plans and policies which can shape the framework for a better Trinidad and Tobago. It is never an easy task speaking out week after week on issues which affect the nation, as my fellow columnists in newspapers across the board would know, but it is an essential and valuable tool and element in the process of nation-building and shaping and sharing ideas for the process of growing and developing T&T.  

Readers may recall after the fateful 18-18 deadlock, I was one of the first persons to float the idea and make mention in this very column, of having a House of Representatives comprising 41 members so as to cater for the growing population areas and also to ensure there can never again be a deadlock or hung Parliament. I have written about the laws of this country and the way they are interpreted and applied, and I write regularly on socio-economic and political issues and like to take an objective, dispassionate view of us as a nation and look at how we are developing, progressing and evolving as a people.  I have had praise for and from my fellow commentators, including Sat Maharaj and Dr Morgan Job though I don’t always agree with everything they say. 

 I have always insisted that even if we do not agree with everything or appreciate all that someone says and does, we must be mature and objective enough to sift out and respect that which we do and ignore or reject that which we don’t.  We have a tendency in Trinidad and Tobago to either shoot the messenger or ignore the message and the learned Chief Justice made this point a couple years ago, before he launched into one of the greatest law term opening speeches ever delivered in this country. We also have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water, so there are some who say they can’t listen to anything that Prof Selwyn Cudjoe says or read anything that Sat Maharaj writes.  

Yet, these two men were able to get together and show the country an example of maturity and understanding, when Maharaj was one of the featured guests at the launch of a book by Prof Cudjoe.  Whether it was just a fleeting illusion or window dressing, the point is that we must become mature enough to disagree with respect and agree without condescension. As part of our growing pains as a nation we need to understand and appreciate that there will be an ever-growing chorus of divergent voices and views, which at times may appear to be a cacophony of sound, discordant and disharmonious. 

At the end of the day, the fact is that with expanded and faster access to information, knowledge and enlightenment, people are going to be more alert, more aware and more vocal in expressing their views. And, with central responsibility in this process remains the role of the independent commentator as a flash point for stimulating discussion, discourse and the development of ideas and thinking, all with a view to promoting a better T&T for us all.

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