The political fallout within the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) has hit another devastating milestone, after 16 of its members in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), including Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, announced their resignation from the party yesterday.
In his resignation letter, however, Augustine said the collective resignations from the PDP were effective from December 1, 2022.
However, he assured Tobagonians that they “remain completely focused on the business of the Tobago House of Assembly and serving the people of Tobago.”
The Chief Secretary also stated that the transition will be “seamless and swift.”
In the second document signed by all 16 former PDP members, they indicated that they will continue to serve as independents in the House of Assembly.
However, in a statement following the shock announcement, PDP leader Watson Duke demanded fresh THA elections no later than January 2023.
“The people of Tobago need to elect an executive with a clear mandate and not be governed by an executive that steals power with no mandate,” Duke said.
While he thanked Augustine and others for their contribution to the PDP, he said, “This cowardly act of abandoning the PDP mandate and Tobagonians for 30 pieces of silver must be treated with scorn and contempt by us, the right-thinking people of Tobago.”
Duke added that Tobago had been ambushed by the “Farley and Friends” resignation from the PDP as it was not expected, since it was clear to all and sundry that after being elected on a PDP slate “my only and constant request was that they implement the mandate that got us elected that is people before politics.”
The resignations also did not sit well with the political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Tobago Council, Ancil Dennis.
He told Guardian Media that the group had campaigned under a PDP banner and many people would have voted for the party, not individuals.
“So, the right and ethical thing to do at this point in time is to go back to the polls and run as independents if they want to be independents and be elected as such,” Dennis said.
Dennis said while the THA does not require an election, “we have 16 defectors controlling the management of this island.”
“That to me is a dangerous situation and it will only further contribute to an exacerbation of the chaos and confusion that we have had in the governance of Tobago for the last ten months.”
Also commenting on the development, political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said the resignations, “from a legal standpoint, it meant absolutely nothing.”
He explained that the THA Act is clear on matters such as this and Augustine and his team can function as independents if they choose for the remainder of their time in office.
Politically, Ragoonath felt that the thrust being made by the PDP in Trinidad could be hindered by the defection of so many senior members in Tobago.
“In Trinidad, people may not necessarily trust the PDP as being that stable and moving forward,” he said.
Dr Ragoonath told Guardian Media that the 16 new independents may also now seek to form their own party and focus solely on Tobago.
“That might be sufficient, might be, I am not saying that it will be, I am saying it might be sufficient for them to keep control and keep the support of the Tobago population,” he explained.
Yesterday’s exodus was the culmination of weeks of tension between Augustine and Duke. Their spat started in September, after the PDP leader publicly chastised the Chief Secretary for what he called the abandonment of members of the Roxborough Folk Group who were stranded in New York during a cultural tour.
Duke later fired Augustine, Faith B Yisrael and Alicia Roberts-Patterson as deputies of the PDP.
He subsequently resigned from his post as Deputy Chief Secretary and has been sitting on the opposition side of the Chamber during sittings of the THA.