On December 6, 2021, politics in Tobago took a surprising and unexpected turn. By a 14-1 majority, the Progressive Democratic Patriots were given the mandate to govern the affairs of the island. This was a clear indication of a desire for change in how Tobago was governed.
Now, months later as we are about to close out the country’s financial year, we have a public disagreement between Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and former deputy chief secretary Watson Duke about how money from the THA should be disbursed.
The Tobago House of Assembly came under fire from Mr Duke for leaving a cultural troupe of 27 Tobagonians, who went to Brooklyn to perform and represent the island, stranded in New York. The question then arises: should the Tobago House of Assembly embark upon a rescue mission because “Tobago people were hungry and sleeping in the streets of New York”? This was not a situation where there was some natural disaster requiring our citizens to be evacuated from a foreign land, but rather one where these individuals decided to go to a foreign land without adequate resources. If the course of action proposed by Mr Duke had been taken by previous leaders of the Assembly, I can guarantee there would have been an outcry from the current assemblymen.
The PDP went into government riding an anti-corruption bandwagon. Now such accusations are being levelled against them. Are the accusations true? Leadership should never be a game of shape-shifting. We need principle-centred leaders, not leaders who would change their actions conveniently. It begs the question: what principles govern the current leaders, and what values are they operating by?
The people of Tobago look on as the debacle unfolds between Messrs Augustine and Duke, with threat of legal action being taken against the political leader of the PDP.
We expect that in any new team, there would be a period of “storming” before “norming”, but is this the example we want to set? That an adversarial approach must be taken in resolving all issues? What about discussion, mediation, sitting down and working out their issues in a manner that displays maturity, respect for differing viewpoints and civility? Leaders, we missed the mark once again. This is not it!
The PDP showed great teamwork during the election campaign, when they were seeking to get into office to “fix dis”. Now that they have been given that mandate, we have this big rift after only nine months. This leaves the rest of the assembly in a “monkey pants”.
They must move forward and continue to lead after the carnage. What will hold them together going forward, and will it be possible for them to continue to work together as a team? Will the recent events birth further divisiveness among assemblymen? I wonder if this fiasco has left those in politics in Tobago demotivated?
Mr Chief Secretary, one of the most important laws of teamwork is “The Law of Identity”, which says that “shared values define the team”. Does this team possess shared values that carry any great weight and depth? With the recent turn of events, I must admit it does not look good; so much so that I wonder whether we will see another public spat like this soon.
While the leaders are sorting out if and how they would work together, the Tobago Self Government bill is being brought to light again. On April 30, 2022, I wrote a column titled “Time to Unwrap the Tobago Self Government Bill”. I asked the Chief Secretary to take up the matter as an urgent one, and not allow it to silently linger in public space; then to only be highlighted again around the time of the next general election. I note that he is making it a priority once more. I am thankful that the Leader of Government Business in the House asked for the bill to be brought to the third session of Parliament to keep it alive.
The bill needs a special majority in both houses—at least 75 per cent of the House of Representative and 66 per cent of the Senate. Passage of the bill requires the support of the UNC in the Lower House and Senate, as well as that of Independent senators.
The previous PNM assemblymen said they supported the bill. The PDP in opposition had issues with the bill, and suggested amendments. Now, the work needs to be done by the current leaders of the Assembly—all of them—to ensure this bill is passed.
I thank God for the vision of Mr Arthur NR Robinson, former chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly, former prime minister and former president. He and his team crafted provisions within the current THA legislation (Act 40 of 1996) for the way in which a Chief Secretary and Deputy Chief Secretary should be elected. If the current rift between the political leader of the PDP and the Chief Secretary had occurred in line with legislation that governs the selection of a Prime Minister, the current Chief Secretary would be out of office today.
I welcome the fact that the Chief Secretary has indicated that he has put a team together to advise on a way forward regarding the bill. The team should pay special attention to Clause 141F of the current legislation before the house. It recommends a change to what operates in Trinidad, and is a move away from the current THA Act.
—Author Maria Dillon-Remy is an Independent senator and former hospital medical director
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