Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine yesterday avoided the media, as a controversy over who were the individuals heard in an audio clip, discussing hiring persons under the THA to spread propaganda on behalf of the new Tobago People Party, swirled across the island.
The issue has created a firestorm on the island as persons expressed anger that taxpayers’ money could be used to fund a party initiative in an illegal manner, with many suggesting those involved would have serious questions to answer.
Meanwhile, other Assemblymen stayed mum when asked to comment on the matter, as they congregated for yesterday’s sitting of the Assembly.
In the voice clip, which has been circulating for a couple days on social media, one male and one female, who sound like two senior THA officials, are heard discussing hiring persons to work to promote political propaganda through the THA.
The male is heard saying, “Create the plan, the strategy, whatever. Bring it here. Once you get approval. Once, ... you have 13 people now. You might just need five or seven to do the strict PR. So, you could use some to do some propaganda. Whether they going to use face profile, whether they going to use their own profile, whatever they doing. And what you will have to consider is finding a way to employ people on the THA side. Could be menial.”
The female joins in, “Because they are happy to do the thing on the side voluntarily, once we employ them eight to four in a lucrative way.”
The male interjects, “And that will help even with, as I was indicating, with the challenge you raise in how Tobagonians are responding to the news in Trinidad that can help in shaping the narrative. I don’t want us to stop campaigning and then switch back.”
Guardian Media has tried unsuccessfully to get Augustine to comment on the issue since Monday. Chief Secretary Augustine and Leader of Assembly Business Zorisha Hackett did not enter the Chamber by the main entrance, instead opting to use the back entrance.
Attempts to get comments from Assemblymen as they were on their way into Assembly Legislature for yesterday’s Plenary Sitting also bore no real success.
Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith B.Yisrael, Pastor Terrance Baynes, Ian Pollard and councillor Certica Williams-Orr did not answer questions from reporters. Nial George, Joel Sampson and councillor Orlando Kerr offered no comment by the nod of their heads.
Natasha Charles-Pantin offered, “Any comment? I love you all. No comments.”
Megan Morrison said, “Have a wonderful day. (This year’s) Heritage (Festival) will be a bumper season.”
Sonny Craig said he did not listen to recording.
“I heard about it. I have to take a listen and see what it is about,” he said.
Trevor James and councillor Tashia Burris were absent from the sitting.
Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) Watson Duke meanwhile said he would comment under the privilege of the Chamber.
However, PNM Minority Leader Kelvon Morris told the media he was concerned that no word had come from the two individuals purported to be in the clip.
“We, like the rest of Tobago, we are very concerned of those audio recordings. As a matter of fact, it is quite strange, passing strange that after 48 hours, we are yet to get a comment from the voices to whom we all know it sounded like in those audio recordings,” Morris said.
“We know those persons quite like social media. We know that usually, if there are issues to be responded to, they do that very quickly and promptly and it is therefore passing strange that we are yet to get a comment.”
Morris added that he tried to get the matter discussed in yesterday’s Plenary Sitting but was turned down.
“What I can say is that from the very face of what is in front of us, there is a prima facie case for breaches in both the Integrity in Public Life Act as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act. I have raised this matter in the House. We have tabled and submitted to the Presiding Officer, a motion calling for a loss of confidence in both the Chief Secretary and the Secretary of Education. That motion has been denied but, of course, at the very next opportunity, we will be bringing that motion to the House.”
Meanwhile, PNM Tobago Council chairman Ancil Dennis said the party will host a media conference today to address the matter.
However, former Public Service Association head Reginald Dumas was more forceful in his comments on the issue.
Speaking in an interview on I95FM yesterday, Dumas said if the dialogue did occur, then the persons involved should demit office.
“If it can be shown that this conversation took place between two members of the Executive Council, then resignations are clearly called for. It will go beyond resignations and call for elections.“
Dumas added that the allegations being made about the conversation in the voice note were tantamount to corruption.
“It suggested that some arrangement was been talked about to use taxpayers’ money in order to advance political interest and I want to hope that I did not hear correctly because that would be corruption,” Dumas said.