Chief Secretary Farley Augustine is disappointed that President Christine Kangaloo did not address the issue of autonomy for Tobago in her maiden address to members of the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament yesterday.
Speaking with Guardian Media on his way out of the Red House following the opening of the new parliamentary term, Augustine said the topic has been tossed around by several chief secretaries before his time. He said he hoped the Government would bring legislation to finally address this years-long request.
“I think it’s about time and I’m hoping in this parliamentary session, although the President didn’t make that one of her wishes, I’m hoping that it will be the wish of the current parliament in the current session, for us to revive matters concerning the autonomy for Tobago,” he said.
Augustine said autonomy for the sister island will mean that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) will have sole oversight on important issues such as inter-island transportation, healthcare and other matters that face the average Tobagonian.
Delving further into the issue of transportation between both islands, Augustine said days before the MV Cabo Star was taken out of commission because of a fire on August 23, he told a town hall meeting of the importance of a reliable ferry service. He said this should be treated as a public transportation commodity.
“The current situation... it is stressful to many Tobago businesses. And it’s not just the Tobago businesses that are challenged by the inter-island ferry service but also there are Trinidad businesses,” he lamented.
He also raised numerous questions, including how old the engines are on the Cabo Star, whether it still has insurance and if new engines are required. He did not acknowledge the arrival of the MV Emprendedora, a relief vessel, from Venezuela over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Augustine said the THA was prepared to work with the central government and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, with whom he has had a public war of words, to address the needs of residents of both islands. He cited section 31 of the THA Act 40 of 1996, which stipulates that the Chief Secretary and Prime Minister must meet regularly.
“Notwithstanding the differences in the politics, notwithstanding the differences in opinion, and very strong opinions at that, certainly I intend to keep the law and to keep that channel open in so far as the governance of both islands are concerned,” he said.
Commenting on the President’s acknowledgement that parliamentarians often face the brunt of critique, the Chief Secretary said he hoped parliament will be more productive to counter the negative stigma, which would also ensure that Tobago benefits from some deliverables.
“That cynicism is widespread but a large part of it is because people feel as though they don’t get the deliverables that they desire out of the parliament, so we hope we could correct that in this session,” he said.
Augustine also revealed that he intends to weigh his legal options after the audio leak in May involving himself and another THA executive member who were heard discussing a plan to use THA funds to pay for a propaganda campaign. He had no update on the police probe into the matter.
“I think you will have to ask the TTPS but on my end, my lawyers are working and certainly there will be some court actions most certainly that you can find coming from my end of the pond,” Augustine said.
The police searched his official residence in July, reportedly leaving with envelopes of evidence. The matter is still under investigation.
Augustine also refused to address the olive branch extended by PDP leader Watson Duke last week.
“Tobago has so many issues, we have a crisis looming because of a ferry service. I think we should focus on the more important things in the politics of Tobago,” he said.