How could Tracy Davidson Celestine, the woman who could very well be the next Chief Secretary not understand that as a secretary your accountability does not end when you ensure funds are provided for a project? How can she not see that as secretary you are ultimately responsible for what happens in your division including failed projects and wastage of taxpayers funds?
From the onset, let me say that I once worked at the Division of Tourism and Transportation in the Tobago House of Assembly and I have had cause on many occasions to interact with Mrs Davidson-Celestine.
For sure she is a very pleasant person, often generous and in many ways easy to work with. But that is beside the point.
Like many in the country, I was aghast and somewhat flummoxed by Davidson-Celestine’s attempt to remove any culpability from herself as serious questions were raised by the Auditor General’s report.
She told supporters in Canaan: “As I know it, a secretary’s role and responsibility is that of policy formulation and it is through the process there will be policy and programmes and we find when the members of staff would come with programmes and proposals, we will go through the process to ensure that the funding is available for the member of staff to implement the project.”
On November 12 last year, the Auditor General’s Department wrote a letter to the THA’s Chief Administrator on the findings of the audit. On page 15 of the letter, the issues surrounding the proposed course at the Main Ridge in Tobago were highlighted.
“A service agreement dated June 12, 2015 showed that the Division of Tourism and Transportation contracted with a British Virgin Island corporation located at Tortola to design, develop and construct a “High Angle” Canopy Tour Course in the Main Ridge at an initial cost of US$531,610,” the letter stated.
The Auditor General noted, however, that no approval was presented from the THA’s executive council for the establishment of the facility.
A total of $2,511,210.20 was paid by the THA for “materials and equipment; however the existence of these assets was not verified...a visit to the stores section of the division revealed only some ropes on hand,” the Auditor General said.
This is a serious matter. The least it points to is project failure and Davidson-Celestine as Secretary of Tourism and Transportation at the time cannot extricate herself from responsibility. Her not-so-veiled attempt to play the victim role and to suggest to Tobagonians that such matters should not be made an issue because they don’t do it in Trinidad is both pellucidly false and an attempt to play the Tobago vs Trinidad card.
“I have read audited reports from ministries in Trinidad, no politician was blamed for it, no member of staff in any division was blamed for it…all they acknowledge was within the functions of government there are systematic challenges at the end of the day and in order to progress and to move forward, we have to ensure we are able to address those systematic reports. But when you look and assess the situation in the context of Tobago and in the context of T&T, it is only in Tobago that the Opposition tries to take these reports and link any politician and member of staff to any untoward processes in a division,” she explained.
Davidson-Celestine added: “All they are doing is calling national attention, calling international attention to the fact that public servants do not yet know how to document their work properly.
But, more than that, they are behaving as though our public servants in the THA are the worst in T&T and the worst in the rest of the Caribbean.”
How could we have confidence that elevating Mrs Davidson-Celestine to the position of Chief Secretary will see someone paying closer attention to the governance structure of the THA and protecting the billions that Tobago gets every year from Trinidad.
The average Tobagonian gets from the Government significantly more than the Government provides per capita for Trinidadians. In the last budget for example, the spend in Tobago was $2.3 billion plus the provision of other services, water, electricity, inter island ferry, port, salaries for national security, airport services etc. Well over $3 billion. That is an average of $50,000 per Tobagonian.
Compare that to Trinidad with its 1.3 million people and the figure works out to $36,100. This is in a situation where Tobago’s tax take is little to nothing.
It is why Davidson-Celestine’s attempt to play the Tobago vs Trinidad card is so offensive.
That the Prime Minister, who in his early days prided himself as the corruption buster and like Davidson-Celestine claims there has been no corruption under his watch has remained quiet while this controversy swirled, is telling, if not surprising.
As I have said before, Tobago has been able to get what it wants and do what it wants because of the bargaining power of the two Tobago seats.
To its credit the island has been prepared to change political allegiance whenever it does not get what it wants and in a closely divided country the ruling PNM desperately needs it to hold onto power. This has led to a preparedness to turn a blind eye to any infraction and to excuse it away as the challenges of separation by water and under-development.
I wonder if the PM’s response, or lack of, would have been the same had similar allegations been made against the Rio Claro/Mayaro Regional Corporation or the Chaguanas Borough Corporation?
The focus may have been on the $2 million for rope but the Auditor General’s report is filled with other shortcomings of the THA.
With the bill expected to soon come before the Parliament for internal self government for the island, it will be interesting to see if it can be passed without significant checks and balances to protect taxpayers money, or at least ensure that the taxes paid by the people and companies operating in the Mayaro/Rio Claro area are not frittered away on zipline projects that leave us holding rope.