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Mariano Browne

All religious traditions have stories of miracles performed by their leaders. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to have performed seven miracles that characterise his ministry, from changing water into wine at the start of his ministry to raising Lazarus from the dead at the end.

They may be viewed as metaphors for transformation, but for many Christians and Muslims, the miracles are actual historical events. Politicians understand the centrality of religion to believers. Understanding this, many political leaders adopt the same formula often casting themselves as a “saviour” in the defence of the people to save them from “going to hell in a hand basket” or unknown “enemies.”

Followers are often encouraged to have faith and hope (the substance of things unseen) in the ability of politicians to deliver them from bondage. This translates into several associated narratives such as “serving the people,” “rescuing the country” and “stabilising the economy.” These phrases complement “protecting the treasury” and “generating billions in savings” even if these savings are, mistakenly, mislabelled expenditure cuts which cannot be used to finance other branches of government.

The pastoral concept is central to leadership and development themes summarised by the biblical injunction that “where there is no vision, the people will perish.” Meaning that without a plan a country will lack direction. Hence a recovery plan or Vision 2030, which will enervate and give followers a sense of direction to lead them to the promised land.

How leaders portray themselves is at often at variance with reality. Moreover, followers give leaders attributes they do not have, obscuring their human frailties further complicating matters. Creating imaginary enemies helps.

Unsurprisingly, some supporters believe that the leader is anointed and owed homage. Often this belief imbues supporters with self-righteous indignation and zealotry. Anyone disagreeing with, or critical of the official narrative find themselves ostracised or the subject of scurrilous attack.

In modern democracies, leaders are constrained in their range of action by term limitations. In T&T’s case, political leaders must accomplish what they can during their five-year term. Invariably, this has led to a model in which leaders promise much but deliver little, making difficult decisions in the first two years of an administration’s term with the next three years devoted to cementing the decisions and ensuring they have beneficial outcomes, whilst campaigning and laying the foundation for the next general election campaign.

Dr Rowley’s initial comments have prepared the country for this formulation. He said, “Our projections are that the next two years will be difficult, very difficult, but during that period we are required to do certain things that will put us in a better position to enjoy that future which is guaranteed to us…”

This is an optimistic outlook designed to instil some hope in the citizenry. Unfortunately, in politics as in life, nothing is guaranteed. To achieve any success requires focused action on a handful of priorities; everything cannot be a priority. Tourism has been identified as a priority. Recent events raise some questions about how this priority is addressed

In 2017 the Tourism Development Corporation was broken into separate entities one to market Tobago, Tobago Tourism Agency limited (TTAL) owned by the THA, one to market Trinidad, Trinidad Tourism Limited (TTL). The TTAL has been staffed and financed whilst the Trinidad version appears to be in the doldrums. Perhaps the THA does not suffer from the same financing constraints of the GORTT? Are there two brands to justify the duplication of administrative and marketing costs?

The announced closure of the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI) in Chaguaramas because of non-payment of budgeted subventions is a confusing. The THA also runs a hotel school in Tobago and has generously offered to make places available for Trinidad students. The responses to the closure from the Minister of Education and Tourism were troubling. In addition, the GORTT’s recovery plan made $50 million available to Tobago hoteliers and none to small Trinidad hoteliers. Perhaps Tobago needed to be reassured to ensure electoral success or should the grant have been paid by the THA?

There are many policy contradictions in this approach to tourism. Is Tourism a key area going forward for T&T or is it only Tobago Tourism? Was the TTHTI killed by deliberately neglect as it is unimportant to Tobago? Is this Tobago self-government on the sly? The dichotomy in Tourism is the tip of the policy iceberg. This is more like confusion, not exactly a miracle.