Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has designated the first day of every month a Tobago day of prayer.
He gave the commitment after being urged to do so by a woman attending the THA executive council’s district town hall meeting, held at the Bethesda Multi-purpose Facility on Tuesday night.
“I got the message before you all got into the confusion in Tobago here, to tell the Chief Secretary every month, he must keep a day of prayer. You don’t have to go to no church, you just have to sit where you are and pray for Tobago. That’s before the House (THA) break up,” said villager Agnes Gibson.
“Chief, you in trouble but I know you all are going to get out of it with prayer and meditation. The first time I saw you I said this young man, I will like to meet him. You catch me by your words. Not them sweet words them boys does give them girls. You can’t catch me…I am just 67 years of age. I am asking you again, ask the nation to pray,” she admonished.
Gibson said she “jumped out” of the People’s National Movement “bucket” to support the Augustine-led team, and while she still supported them she was disappointed in certain things that she preferred not to speak about publicly.
“Prayer right now is the key and don’t give up because the devil is like a roaming lion trying to destroy. Tobago needs to turn around,” Gibson added.
Earlier this month, Augustine and 15 other members of the THA executive council resigned from the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), the party under which they entered the THA via majority vote in the December 2021 THA election.
The resignations came two months after PDP political leader Watson Duke fired Augustine and two others as the party’s deputy political leaders, and resigned as THA Deputy Chief Secretary.
Augustine on Tuesday night agreed that the island was in need of prayer.
“What I will have established, and I will ask the Information Division to put the notice out, that as an island the first day in every month we set aside as a day we will pray. It doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t go to work or it will be a holiday. It means that wherever you are on the island, people take time out on the first day of every month to pray…a Tobago day of prayer,” he said.
Augustine suggested that January 1 was the most “perfect time” to start the initiative as it was New Year’s Day and the start of a new week.
Hear their concerns
Following the mass resignations of THA members from the PDP, Augustine committed to meeting with communities so that area representatives and secretaries could hear their concerns.
The one in the Bethesda/Les Coteaux electoral district on Tuesday night was the first such meeting.
“These conversations are not meant to be political at all,” Augustine told residents during his opening address.
He added: “Over the past few months, a lot has been said in the public space and our response has been silence because sometimes silence is golden…and sometimes you need to stay calm and watch the hand of God move and stay calm and watch people talk stupidness all over the place. But there is also another time and season where we need to speak, and that season is opening as of now, where we need to speak and address the downright lies, misconceptions and some of the things you are fearful of as we seek to build out every community…”
During the session, villagers of Plymouth, Bethesda, Les Coteaux and Golden Lane brought to the fore various issues affecting them, such as insufficient drainage, youth unemployment and lack of information regarding farming incentives.
Annlise Williams-Stuart, a resident of the THA-subsidised housing development Adventure Estate Phase Two in Plymouth, complained that homeowners pay a maintenance fee of $300 monthly, in addition to their mortgage, however, their buildings were not being maintained in a timely manner.
“We have guttering that have never been cleaned. We have tanks that have been cleaned once. On my block we have a tank we have been complaining about for the past four years. The tank has no cover. We have a fireman in the back by me. He is the one who went and cleaned the tank,” she said.
“We pay $200 a month through TTMF (Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance) Company for the WASA (Water and Sewerage Authority) bill. WASA has never collected a payment within the past six years, seven years from TTMF. TTMF has been sending us letters stating that they have a separate account that they store the money that’s supposed to go to for WASA. I don’t know where the mix-up between Settlements and WASA is that the money is just on this account in TTMF and it has not been going to WASA,” she said.
THA Secretary of Settlements, Public Utilities and Rural Development Ian Pollard explained that the development, built under the former THA administration, still did not have a certificate of completion.
“Most of the developments the current administration met when they came into office, most of the money that persons are paying are not coming to the Division but are held by TTMF. In order for the monies to be paid out to these institutions we have to have a completion certificate for these developments,” he said.
Perturbed by this, Augustine instructed that a meeting be set up with TTMF officials, the Division of Settlements and the Adventure Estate Phase Two homeowners association.
“This is almost like a pandemic within the THA and within the operations of Tobago. It’s like nothing could happen efficiently and on time. Why should people be given keys seven years ago and at this point we’re not keeping the contractual arrangement? I don’t understand it,” he expressed.
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