Farley Augustine addressing the PDP Trinidad launch in May. Political leader Watson Duke removed him and two others as deputy leaders. – JEFF K MAYERS
AS the political tussle between the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader Watson Duke and THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine escalates, Duke on Saturday accused the assembly’s executive officers of disrespecting the members of the party’s executive.
Just nine months after assuming office in a landslide 14-1 victory over the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the December 6, 2021, THA election, the PDP encountered its first major hitch on Wednesday when Duke publicly accused the assembly of abandoning some 27 members of the Roxborough Folk Performers who were due to perform at Labour Day celebrations in New York, US.
In a video posted on his Facebook page, Duke weighed in on Augustine’s response to the plight of the group at Thursday’s post Executive Council media briefing.
In a video on Wednesday, Duke had claimed that apart from purchasing airline tickets for the group, the THA did not provide additional funding to cover expenses during their stay.
He further claimed the members of the group, led by former government minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, were stressed, hungry and in need of food.
Duke had appealed to the THA to urgently address the issue.
But at Thursday’s media briefing, Augustine revealed the THA assisted the group with money for airline tickets and some of their expenses to the tune of $400,417.50.
PDP political leader Watson Duke and THA Chief Secretary Farley during the laund of the party’s Trinidad arm at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain on May 1. – FILE PHOTO/JEFF K MAYERS
He said, then, the THA simply could not afford to provide any more funding to the group and that Duke was aware of the assembly’s position.
Augustine said he could not understand why Duke felt compelled to publicly criticise the THA.
In light of his transgression, Augustine said he is reviewing Duke’s role as Deputy Chief Secretary as he had been shirking several of his responsibilities.
He is expected to announce his decision by the end of this weekend.
Duke, who described Augustine’s review of his portfolio as “ridiculous and laughable,” advised him to not make any foolish decisions.
On Friday, he also revoked the appointments of Augustine, Dr Faith BYisrael (Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection) and Alicia Roberts-Patterson as deputy political leaders.
In his video on Saturday, Duke accused Augustine of bringing the PDP into disrepute by “mocking the political leader’s overture for 27 Tobagonians to be fed who were in dire straits.”
He said regardless of how some people may turn and twist the issue on social media, “it was a humanitarian issue and a direct appeal to the Tobago House of Assembly who was sitting at that point in time in executive council to make a decision on this.”
But Duke believes the “real substantive issue is the fact that the chief secretary and some of his executive officers in the THA has shown total disrespect and disdain for the Progressive Democratic Patriots executive.”
He added, “This party was the one that sponsored all of them into government. So they have entered into the THA, they have refused to meet the executive, they have refused to discuss with the executive what are the mandates they have taken from the party and have now tried to form into policy.”
Duke, the assemblyman for Roxborough/Argyle, said, “It is a known fact that party drives government not government driving the party. The party must answer to the people and the politicians must answer to the party.
In this case, he added, the PDP must answer to the people of Tobago and the THA must answer to the PDP because the party represents the people.
“This is the social contract spoken of in the Constitution, that a citizen engages in with the government.”
Duke insisted the PDP executive must be given the respect it deserves.
“The Chief Secretary must know and will soon come to understand that he is simply a reflection of the party and the party is a reflection of the people. You are no lone wolf. You are no boss. You were simply hired by the party to the people to facilitate Tobago.”
Sunday Newsday reached out to several PDP executive members but they declined comment.
In the video, Duke also sought to justify why he has not fulfilled the responsibilities under his purview as Deputy Chief Secretary.
Regarding autonomy, Duke said an office has not been established in Trinidad to treat with the issue.
Dr Faith BYisrael during a PDP meeting in Tobago in November 2021. Political leader Watson Duke on Thursday removed BYisrael as a deputy political leader. – DAVID REID
“The Chief Secretary has been tiptoeing and playing around the issue. He has failed to secure an office for that autonomy issue and that intergovernmental relationship issue. “All he taking about it in the budget was simply showboating, simply PR stunts. He has done nothing to this day. That was given to him since December, last year.”
On the issue of foreign direct investment, Duke claimed that many people around the world want to invest in Tobago.
“But the Chief Secretary again, he does not provide the environment for that. Where are the staff I am supposed to have to treat with that issue. I am placed in a cramped place that can best be described as a foul coop with little or no staff.”
He also complained about the administrator who was assigned to him.
“I have been given an administrator who is pig-headed, who refuses to cooperate and assist. And though I would have written to the Chief Secretary on many occasions about the atrocities and the errant ways of this administrator he has told me on many occasions we will deal with it. To date he has not dealt with it.”
He observed Augustine had changed the administrators of his “good friends,” Zia Hackett (Secretary of Education, Research and Technology) and BYisrael.
“But the administrator I am stuck with, the least experienced administrator, the one who has no allegiance and commitment to what I am doing, I am stuck with that one.”
Duke urged Tobagonians to open their eyes.
“Recognise this is an issue of power struggle where one man built his organisation and we have people trying to take it over by using PR stunts and proclaiming themselves as saint.”
He also issued a warning to Augustine.
“This is about governance. Control your emotions. Think clearly. When you are ready to drink some cooling bush and smoke the peace pipe, we can share that drink.”
Duke said he is serious about Tobago’s governance.
“I am on no fun and games. Don’t invite me to no VIP party. I am having none of that with you all. I am simply here to do my job.
“I can work with anyone but be respectful and come and do the correct thing for Tobago, Trinidad and the wider world.”
But the future of the PDP, which was founded in 2016, may very well rely on Augustine’s review of Duke’s position as Deputy Chief Secretary and the possible fallout.
According to the THA Act 40 of 1996, a Chief Secretary of Deputy Chief Secretary can be removed via the passing of a no-confidence resolution by the assemblymen. If they do not resign within two days of the passing of the resolution, the President is empowered to revoke their appointments.
Political analyst Dr Indira Rampersad said the widening rift between Duke and Augustine, if not dealt with speedily, will not augur well for the future of the PDP.
She believes there are cracks in the party as opposed to the THA.
“It does not bode well for the party. You always want a united party. You don’t want divisions and that will be a problem if not mended before the next THA election,” Rampersad told Sunday Newsday.
Even so, she believes Augustine will continue to reign “unless Duke decides to give him thunder in terms of public rhetoric to undermine him.”
Rampersad said Duke and Augustine have different personalities. While Augustine is moderate, Duke has a radical approach, she observed.
But Rampersad noted such differences in character are not unheard of in political alliances.
“It can work very well because you are bringing two different kinds of characteristics to the fray. But the big question is whether they can reconcile those differences in the interest of the party and later on, in the interest of Tobago because that can impact the THA.”
She said the PDP’s foothold in the THA came about as a result of its victory in last December’s election.
“Therefore, if they don’t win another election they would lose the THA altogether. So there is that ripple effect of what happens in the PDP impacting the THA. The THA and Farley as chief secretary will survive until the next election.”
Rampersad said Augustine may also consider forming his own party. But she advised against such a move.
“This is not a good idea because when you have too many, they split the votes, which can bring the PNM right back and I don’t think they want that.”
In the meantime, Rampersad suggested that both men should get together to try to work out their differences in the best interest of the THA and Tobago generally.