There has been another twist in the ongoing internal dispute between Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Farley Augustine and Deputy Chief Secretary Watson Duke.
Augustine has now challenged Duke to bring a motion of no confidence against him.
Speaking during an interview on i95.5FM yesterday, Augustine explained that the THA resumes on September 22, so there are two days before a motion has to be entered for debate.
“If the Deputy Chief Secretary feels so aggrieved, feels disappointed in my leadership, I will remove the parliamentary whip from over his head and if he so desires, let him enter a motion of no confidence in me, I am giving him full privilege to do so, go right ahead Mr Duke, go right ahead,” Augustine said.
But if the motion fails, there is to be the ultimate consequence for Duke.
“If he enters it and is unsuccessful, I will demand his removal immediately,” Augustine added.
The disagreement started last week when Duke posted a video to social media from New York, condemning the THA executive for not helping 27 members of the Roxborough Folk Group, led by former minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, who were stranded there.
During a post-Executive Council media briefing soon after the video circulated, Augustine said he would be reviewing Duke’s portfolio.
One day later, Duke removed Augustine, Dr Faith B Yisrael and Alicia Roberts-Patterson as deputy leaders of the Progressive Democratic Patriots.
But yesterday, Augustine opened up about the matter.
He explained that the group asked for over $700,000 for a trip to the Tri-State (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) area in the United States to carry out performances.
Given financial constraints, Augustine it was agreed the THA would pay for the airfare, which amounted to over $300,000. However, he said one day after the group arrived in New York, he got a call indicating they had nowhere to stay.
Augustine said it was then arrangements were made for someone to pay a hotel bill which the THA was to reimburse. This cost was US$9,000.
“That is because you have 27 Tobagonians, they down on their luck, they out, I mean we can’t allow them to sleep on the streets,” he said.
The Chief Secretary said a day later, he received a video from Duke saying the group also needed food and if money was not sent, the video would be posted online. He said this was done later that night although efforts were being made through executive members and Tobagonians living in New York to help.
“And I am saying this is crazy,” he said.
Augustine also expressed concern that the “goalpost” kept moving.
“Why not cancel the trip? Why take people out there to struggle?” he asked.
Augustine said he then concluded that Duke’s video may have been pre-meditated.
“This led me to believe that the issue has to be larger than this performing group, that seemed to me to be a ruse for what seemed to be not just an out-of-pocket behaviour but a train wreck response to what is regular due diligence, regular type of governance operation,” Augustine said.
He assured that he has no issue with Duke.
“I have given him nothing but respect...I have chosen silence as a response to the flatulent noises which we have been hearing every day coming from live videos,” he said.
No grab for power in the PDP
The Chief Secretary also denied claims of a power struggle within the PDP.
“Power struggle within the party, Mr Duke is on his own where that is concerned,” he said.
He explained that when he was removed as a deputy, he did not argue and thanked the executive and left the meeting and subsequently their WhatsApp chat.
“So perhaps he is struggling with a ghost but not with Farley,” he said.
Augustine also confirmed that he had reviewed Duke’s role and function and spoken with the THA Executive on the matter as well.
But while they have discussed stripping Duke of his responsibilities, it will not be done without giving Duke an opportunity to respond to their concerns. He said there is another virtual meeting of the executive today and Duke is expected to attend.
“And subsequent to that meeting, the country will know what the position of the government would be,” he said.
The Chief Secretary also took time to rubbish recent rumours about him, among them claims of corruption.
“I am that confident that there are no truths to those claims...I have heard them, I have laughed at them,” he said, threatening to take anyone to court who make the claims publicly.
But notwithstanding the PDP’s internal struggles, Augustine assured that governance remains unaffected.
“What I wish to assure the nation this morning (yesterday) is that the posturings of the Deputy Chief Secretary have not in any way affected the operations of the Tobago House of Assembly,” he said.
However, in Roxborough, the district represented by Duke, there were mixed views on the situation.
Benjamin Ferguson said, “Mr Duke, he very commesful (sic), disorganised, he just like Mr (Donald) Trump (former US President) you know, no different from Mr Trump.”
Darren Jones, from Scarborough, said the impasse could have a rippling effect.
“It is kind of surprising to know that these two guys born and grow in Tobago under a power struggle. Sadly to say, it will have an effect on the island as a whole, as well as the population, because we were actually looking forward for a change and also to be represented in Parliament,” he said
“If they can’t work as a team God help us,” Jones added.
Grace Powder said while she has been following the conflict, she is struggling to understand its genesis.
“I am hearing everything, I am seeing everything but I don’t understand it...If somebody could explain it to me, I will be very grateful,” she said.
Up to press time, neither Duke nor Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, who led the folk group, could be reached for comment regarding the developments.