Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and his “Independent” team need to “pull up their socks and pantyhose” in 2023, or they may as well kiss goodbye to a second term.
And the team needs to do three critical things immediately to see about Tobagonians, or there’ll be calls for them to go.
That’s the respective opinions of former public service head Reginald Dumas and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) frontliner Dr Vanus James.
The views from Tobago’s elder statesmen were among Tobagonians’ expressions of concern after Augustine and his THA executive members resigned on Monday from the PDP, the party on whose ticket they won the THA elections last December 6.
PDP leader Watson Duke is seeking legal advice on whether they can continue controlling the THA as Independents - which Augustine says they now are. Duke also wrote to THA President Officer Abby Taylor yesterday, calling on her to declare their seats vacant. (See page 5)
Yesterday, Dumas said he wasn’t surprised at the development. He said months ago - after clashes between Duke and Augustine - he’d projected the “dissident group” would leave the PDP and establish a new party.
“It was clear there was no love lost between them, no meeting of the minds and a decision to break away was ahead. But if you have to go to the polls, you can’t go as independents - some grouping must be set up,” Dumas said.
“I’ve not encountered a ‘government of Independents’ since colonial days - and that led to the PNM’s formation. So, I expect a party will be formed from which people can speak and vote.
“However, I see nothing in the THA Act to suggest there has to be an election. You can dissolve the Assembly before the end of its four-year term but by resolution, so I don’t see an election happening.”
Dumas didn’t know if Augustine’s group would lose if an election is held. But he said a lot of unhappiness being expressed in the team predated Monday’s act (resignations) and it was felt Assembly members weren’t focused, were ‘all over the place’ and some were perceived as arrogant.
“There’s been almost total absence of consultation with the people, though Farley said there would be consultation. But they’ve managed to consult on nothing. I want to see what sort of behaviour 2023 will bring. But from what I’ve been seeing and hearing, if (Augustine’s team) doesn’t pull up their socks and pantyhose in 2023, they may as well kiss goodbye to a second term.”
Dumas, however, felt they may last the term. “Hardly anybody resigns here. We’ll see if the matter goes to court and mandates that. But on the face of it, there’s no need to move,” he said.
Dumas said a poll is currently being done on how Tobagonians feel about the team’s first year in office. He said while the PNM managed, the THA was being asked about their spending. But he said Augustine’s THA also “has to watch themselves on certain contracts awarded” and whether these can stand scrutiny by the Auditor General.
James: They must produce fast
Tobago Economist Dr Vanus James.
THA INFO DEPT
Dr Vanus James, who unsuccessfully tried to broker peace talks between Augustine and Duke when the spat that led to a fallout months ago went public, doesn’t think that’s possible again.
He said those in the Assembly are working as a team and still hold the obligation they took on last December - but that and oversight mechanisms remain lacking.
“First thing they need to do immediately is establish a mechanism for the public to participate in the policy-making process and via which Tobago’s critical business community can dialogue. They don’t have a year to do that. They don’t even have the time to enjoy Christmas,” James said.
He said they also cannot avoid establishing a party, since that carries the elements for effective representation and rapport.
“They’ll have to do that if they’re serious about staying in power,” he said.
James said the situation is urgently needed, since THA’s government is “still top-down, lacking mechanisms for the public to weigh in on policies, evaluate Augustine and his team and ascertain routine policymaking.”
“The business community is in big trouble and (the Assembly) needs to hear what development plan they’re trying to build. Nothing’s been done from December to date and if they choose to do what I’ve detailed, they have a chance. If not, the cry will go out for them to be removed and people like me will have to say if they haven’t acted in the public interest, they need to go.”
Several small business operators also expressed concern yesterday.
“This is our latest problem - not knowing how this will work out, if it’s going to court, to elections - where and what outcomes. Tobago is small, everything that occurs affects us all. Things can’t seem to settle down, that’s not a good foundation for us to continue trying to recover from lockdown,” one of them who did not want to be named said.