Dumas, Morris: Probe THA $400k funding of folk group

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Reginald Dumas –

Former head of the public service Reginald Dumas is calling for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into the Tobago House of Assembly’s $400,417.50 part-sponsorship of the Roxborough Folk Performers’ trip to New York for Labor Day celebrations.

Dumas was speaking on the Tobago Updates morning show on Friday, after the public feud between Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and former deputy chief secretary Watson Duke.

The latter had slammed the assembly’s treatment of 27 members of the group. Duke, the assemblyman for Roxborough/Argyle, claimed that apart from airline tickets for the group, the THA did not provide funding to cover their other expenses. As a result, he said, the members were left stranded, hungry and sleeping on the streets and in rat-infested basements.

Augustine has denied Duke’s version of events and reprimanded him for handling the matter publicly. He said the assembly could not give the group additional money, adding that Duke was aware of the constraints.

Dumas said the chief secretary has questions to answer.

“He speaks of $400,000 to assist people with airfare. How much does it cost (for) a round-trip airfare between Scarborough and New York for 27 people? Four hundred thousand dollars? I don’t think so…

“If it is not $400,000, what happened to the rest of the money? Did the THA pay for meals and accommodation for any part of the time that these people spent in New York? Who sent them in the first place? Whom were they representing? Not the THA. What benefit did their representation bring to Tobago?”

He said all these things need to be looked at and a policy must be developed.

“I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go to the THA and ask for assistance for this, that and the other – yes, they can do that, but on what basis is that assistance to be given, if it is to be given at all?”

He added: “Use the recommendations coming out of this as to how government funds are to be used to assist any group or any individual or whatever it is who is going to represent Tobago.”

Minority files motion to explain NY trip

Minority Leader Kelvon Morris said on Friday he has filed a question for the next sitting of the Tobago Assembly legislature on September 22, seeking answers on taxpayers’ money spent on the trip.

“The first question is whether this was political patronage, because we all know that Mrs Vernella Alleyne-Toppin (an affiliate of the performing group)is a former TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People) representative, and she has affiliation to the PDP at this time. We want to know what was the process used and whether the process would have bypassed the policy to favour Ms Toppin in any way.

Kelvon Morris –

“The second thing we want to know, there is some information suggesting that the original application was for the Tobago Day event, which would have passed (before the group arrived in New York). So therefore the question, is why were the funds still (disbursed) or the support still given to the group, when the event (for) which they originally applied would have already passed – which was the Tobago Day (August 28) and not the Labor Day as they eventually went to?”

He too is calling for an independent investigation, which he said would bring forward the facts.

“It is public funds, and the public should have a clear understanding as to what this $400,000 was spent on. You are getting…varying information as to how this $400,000 was spent: you’re hearing it was for tickets alone, you’re hearing in some instances it was for ticket, food and accommodation.

“So we really need an independent investigation so taxpayers can be comforted as to how their money was spent.”

At a September 8 post-Executive Council media briefing, Augustine said the THA did its best, supporting the group handsomely in its effort to boost Tobago pride among the diaspora.

He said when he spoke to Alleyne-Toppin, “I indicated clearly that the THA could not fund 100 per cent of the entire trip. I was assured then that they weren’t looking for the THA to give 100 per cent, they were looking for the THA to help get them there.

“They too had visa challenges to the point where many members of the team only got through with their visas last week and they travelled the Saturday and Sunday.”

He said the time frame to organise was so tight that no cheques could be issued. He said the THA also preferred to pay invoices than distribute money.

“But because the timelines were so short, we had to eventually give a promissory note to the travel agency that would settle the bill in order for them to leave here. Before the team left here, Mrs Alleyne-Toppin assured us that she had their accommodation booked and everything was in place for where they were to stay.”