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REQUEST FOR THE T.H.A. TO IMPLEMENT DIRECT DISTRICT FUNDING AND APPOINT BIPARTISAN TEAM TO REVIEW POLICY BEFORE EXECUTION OF SAME.
5:06 P.M.

I have learned that when you start at the back of a race, you have to run hard and you have to be more skillful. I think this is what we are attempting to do because of our resource challenges. I believe that we are going to get to where we are trying to get to. I am confident that we will have this conversation and hope that the Minority side would take us up on the offer, and if they do not, we shall go forward bravely and we shall make sure that provision is made available to the Minority side and for the people that he represents. [Desk thumping]

With these words, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer. I beg to move.

Question put and agreed to.

Let me repeat. I get the sense that he has difficulty hearing, because I remember at the last   Sitting that we had, he made some comments about the Secretary of Health denying residents grants and all kinds of stuff. The Secretary stood there   and explained the thing in its entirety, and about two (2) days later I saw a Facebook post attributed to him with a hamper from the Representative for the East.

The point I am  making is, he does not listen. His intent is not to receive information. He   does not listen and asks questions, and wastes the time of this House in my   view, because the things that he has asked are things that we have already  put in the contribution, plus the Chief Secretary has explained some things. It is depressing to say the least. I have also said on several occasions that words like ‘corruption’ and attempting to use those comments to despise this organization, should be banished from their vocabulary, because all of us know that the organization that he so proudly represents  has a ‘black belt’ in corruption and those things. [Desk thumping]

Our attempt with  this Motion, was to try to diffuse some of these things; to stretch our hands  across the divide, saying, “Listen, we understand that this is a programme that has delicate areas and we do not think that we have superior knowledge, and that we would like to get some buy-in and we would like to get some thoughts”.

     The people at the Division have worked very hard. As an Administration, we did not even have to do this, so it is not to say that we are compelled to do it. We did not have to, but we felt that it is important to get a comprehensive buy-in into the thing, notwithstanding that we also agreed that the constituency that the   Minority Leader represents, will benefit from the fund as well, because our   commitment is to make sure that the entire Tobago is developed. [Desk thumping] So I am flabbergasted; blown away.

     Here is why, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer. I expect that there will be some differences of   opinion, but it is the negativism that is distracting. He has stood in this   House on several occasions and talked about poor people in his district and   all that, and here is an opportunity for us to have a conversation of how   additional funding can be used in our districts to develop our people, and he   is as negative as a darkroom. I do not understand it. [Desk thumping]

     Suffice it to say, that work has been done and one (1) of the reasons why - and I told this to the Chief Secretary as well and even those back at the Division - we  understand that the document is not a perfect one. We understand that, and it  is because we value the contributions that we think will come from other Area   Representatives to impact the final document, we are taking this stand. We are still, despite the cloud of negativism that has been expressed here today, extending the invitation to get some representation from the Minority side, to be a part of the conversation and   bring a final document so that we could move ahead with what we want to do, because we are going to do it. We are going to do it  and we will not allow the negativism of any one Area Representative to sacrifice the patrimony of the rest of the island. [Desk thumping]

     Minority Leader, No. 2 (I am not sure - maybe the Chief Secretary  will have to assist me. I do not know who is No. 1 and who is No. 2.)  spewed some stuff here and in what I can only call ‘ultra-cowardice’, spoke his thing and made different comments and tried to smartly imply some things. All of the things that he has said here to me, are of agricultural value - all. It adds nothing to the conversation.

     He talked about   what this can do for his district. You know, 'Full  belly man does always tell hungry belly man ...’? [Desk thumping] If he was in his district, based on the kinds of calls that we are receiving as Area Representatives, (the Assistant Secretary of Education, the Chief Secretary and others) he will know that one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) will do wonders for the district of   Roxborough/Argyle, [Desk thumping] but of course, he is a travelling   Representative.

     The thing about it is, I hope that at some point, we will   get past some of the negatives that are baseless and we could have some   useful conversations. One does not expect at all, that there will be total   agreement on everything, but we will expect some conversations that are   sensible and that can add value to what we are trying to do. I think that the   Motion has tremendous currency.

       I want to thank my Colleagues who have contributed and I   think that we have had exceptional contributions from my Colleagues today. I   would want to close by saying, that we are determined to make Tobago ‘the best little island on the planet’. We are determined to improve the lives of  every single citizen on this island. We know the challenges that we are facing; we have resource challenges and all of that, but we will work with what we have. We will be innovative.

Mr. Deputy   Presiding Officer, 45 (4)...

Thank you, Mr.   Deputy Presiding Officer. I have to confess that I have a bitter/sweet sentiment from the debate today. I am a perennial optimist actually, and despite the type of politics that we have grown accustomed to, I expected a   different type of conversation.

I listened of course, to the Minority Leader and I got the sense that he does not listen.   Because the last time I was on my legs in this House ...

Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, I will like to thank you for allowing me the time to contribute in this esteemed, august House. I look forward to working with each and every Member of the Tobago House of Assembly, to make Tobago the ‘greatest little island on the planet’. [Desk thumping]

The aim of the fund is to bring back community volunteerism and to access money to deal with minor projects; projects that would slip through the cracks of the divisional bureaucracy.

Members, Members. Minority Leader, please allow the Member to speak. If you need to speak with your Colleague, speak softly so that only both of you can hear.

Continue, Member.


Could you allow me to finish please? I never interrupted you.

       It is a draft and not a completed document. You would have your say, the Minority Councillor would have her say and Assemblyman Duke would definitely have his say.

      I also heard the Minority Leader speaking of what happens in the instance where he votes for me and I am his Representative and he is also a Representative. Due to the dividing of the districts - there are many districts that are cut in between villages and sometimes we seem not to understand, but when God does His thing, it is not by accident. I see this as an opportunity for each and every Assemblyman to work together for the goals of their communities. [Desk thumping]

            I definitely would work alongside Assemblyman Morris to get the needs of Whim secured.  There are six (6) others like that in my district and that is the length and the breath of the district I have.

           I also heard Assemblyman Morris misleading the public with this ‘wine and water’ issue, speaking as though he seeks to exempt himself from his responsibility. I find it very disingenuous, because we as the Executive, face that very issue with the budgetary allocation that is given to us. [Desk thumping] Secretary James would need all of the development allocation and more, just to deal with the infrastructural needs of our island, yet the Minority Leader sits there seeking to bring down everything and make it seems as though we have an abundance of money to deal with these issues.

We on this side have to cut and contrive. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) is available, based on the funds we have now and we would continue to cut and contrive in our districts. [Desk thumping]

       The other aim of this fund, is to bring back the community involvement. With this fund, you would be able to access funding to bring in materials for some projects.  You then as the Area Representative, would have to reach out to your stakeholders, to your community groups - use your reach to access volunteer work to make this happen. This way the one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) would reach much further.

It would also bring back the old-time way of doing things together and helping one another. This would be effective in many things because we have seen a scourge starting to develop in Tobago among our young people,

and that is because of the divide - idle hands. If we get together and work together, we would definitely get more done.

      This fund would also be used as a metric to judge your Assemblymen, whether in office or out of office. [Desk thumping] They have funds to implement projects within their districts and this can be used as a measure of their effective leadership.

The communities will experience faster implementation of their vision for their communities. This fund would not be directed by only Assemblyman. It would be directed by the district council as well and implemented through the Division of Community Development.

      The checks and balances that exist with any other policy would also exist within this fund, so the questions that you are asking, you already have the answers to. You would be given jurisdictions to see this because it is a bipartisan development. [Desk thumping] You will be part of the final product.  Unless you neglect to take up the opportunity to be part of this process, you would know what is coming forward before it gets here. [Crosstalk]

        I have heard about the money and the amount of money and I think we are missing the purpose of the fund. We are looking past the aim and the intent of the fund, which is to give access to those on both sides of the

Executive and to also encourage community development within… [Crosstalk]

 We are waiting on the draft.

 Remember I represent you, Boss. [Desk thumping] You on that side seem not to understand the inclusion, because it seems to be your way or the highway. First of all, this Motion is about the starting of the conversation. It is a draft; it is nothing complete. [Crosstalk]

ADJOURNMENT

Motion made: That this House stands adjourned to a date to be fixed. [Hon. T. James]


Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned accordingly.

Adjourned at 5.09 p.m.

[Desk thumping] Good afternoon, Mr. Deputy Chief Secretary.  I would like to thank you for the opportunity to enter this debate.

I would also like to thank the residents of Mary’s Hill, Union, Fairbanks, Orange Hill, Church Street, Bethel, Mt. Irvine, Pleasant Prospect, Black Rock, Whim and last but not least, Plymouth. [Desk thumping]

          The crafters of the Tobago House of Assembly Act 40 of 1996 envisioned a Tobago House of Assembly consisting of the champions of each district being elected and coming together to form this House, to make decisions in the best interest of all Tobagonians.

        The essence and the spirit of this Act seems to have been lost over the last couple of decades, reaching the worst point in the six/six deadlock in 2021, when partisan politics stuck its ugly head out. Elected representatives, six of them, were essentially shut out. This very Motion seeks to take us back to the intent of the crafting of the Act, where each and every Member

should have access to some sort of funding to deal with issues within their districts. [Desk thumping]

        This Motion seeks to address two (2) core issues: direct funds designated to each district under the supervision of the Assemblyman to promote healthy community development and an equitable distribution of funds, whether you are on the Majority side or the Minority side.

      The path that we take to achieve the betterment for Tobago maybe different, but at the end, the goal should be the same: to improve the lives of all Tobagonians, child by child, family by family, village by village. [Desk thumping]

    I sat here today and I kept hearing the Minority side speaking about the way the funds would be accessed. It seems to me as though they do not understand that the fund would be developed in a bipartisan manner. They kept speaking as though they would be looking from the outside, in. There is a seat on the table and that is why the bipartisan approach is being taken. [Desk thumping] They seem not to understand that because they seem on

that side to go ‘is my way or the highway’. We on this side believe that you… [Crosstalk]

Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, let me thank my Chief Secretary   for the opportunity to serve with this glorious team.

     Let me also thank Members of the Executive for their continuous support during the past year,   and I also want to thank members of my electoral district, Signal Hill/Patience Hill, Spring Garden,   Orange Hill, a part of Union and a part of Lambeau. Without you all, I would   not be standing here today in the House, to deliver to you all.

     Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, I rise to support the Motion   before this House, which speaks to direct district funding of no less than   one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) per annum, to be placed   under the directive of each Area Representative; that a bipartisan team   reviews the policy developed by the Division of Community Development, Youth Development   and Sport, before its execution.

     In lending my support to this measure, Mr. Deputy   Presiding Officer, I reflect on the numerous and varied calls for support I   receive daily from persons in my electoral district.

     From the continuous interacting with my constituents over   the past year, I realize that in many instances while community-wide projects   may cater to the more general needs of most persons, there still remain   instances in which dire needs pertinent to individuals, families and   community groups,whether they be sporting, cultural, religious   establishment, farmers, fishermen, etcetera. I will give an example.

I received a call recently from a cultural group   requesting financial assistance, and also from a sporting group that I   personally had to support from my pocket.

     I also heard the Minority Leader asking a while ago, what   can one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) do? Well, let me advise   him, that that one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) will do well   for all electoral districts in Tobago. [Desk thumping]

     In light of this, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, this   proposed funding I view as a means whereby an effort can be made to meet some of the requests which come my way; the ultimate aim being the improvement of   the standard of living and quality of life of persons in my district and those of the wider population in Tobago.

     Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, as is common throughout   Tobago, it is absolutely necessary that special attention be given to the   vulnerable among us, including but not limited to, our senior citizens; the   unemployed, and as most of us will know now, the youths who are so at risk   and who are in dire need of assistance; persons with disabilities as my   Colleague, Assemblyman Morrison spoke a while ago about having a ramp; it   would assist in that area also, and single parent households.

     Persons in this group, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, often   find it difficult to meet even the most basic requirements for living.

     Further, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, while critical   needs may abound, my vision for my district also extends to the promotion of   an enhanced economic environment, fuelled by the entrepreneurial activities   of persons in Signal Hill/Patience Hill, Orange Hill, Spring Garden, a part   of Lambeau and a part of Union.

     Towards this end, I foresee the upgrade of the skills of   those interested in small and medium enterprises as one (1) means whereby   some persons can become active agents of economic growth within my electoral district, rather   than passive dependence on the Tobago House of Assembly. [Desk thumping]

     Mr. Deputy   Presiding Officer, there is a wealth of opportunities within my electoral district and I would not want to say my electoral district only, but I would say, in Tobago, where most of us have pan sides, cultural groups, football  clubs, (my area for example, has two (2) football clubs that take part in the   Tobago Football Association), Village Councils and Police Youth Clubs. I also have secondary, primary and pre-schools in my area.

     Many of those mentioned here will be well served by an injection of funds, such as this Motion proposes. [Desk thumping] I can assist my pan side with a uniform, or I can buy some football equipment for the football club in my area. That is my understanding from what the Assemblyman told me, when he   spoke earlier.

     Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, this funding opportunity I realize, must be handled with care and as such, the execution of programmes of support will be handled with due diligence and proper accounting to ensure accountability and transparency. [Desk thumping] We are not on any corruption thing. It is the real thing that we are talking about; proper accountability to the people of Tobago.

     Mr. Deputy   Presiding Officer, overall, I would like to see the benefits of these funds   in my district and all other districts in Tobago, and towards this end, we   will support and encourage ideas from as many persons as possible, to ensure   that the benefit of this venture extend to all Tobagonians.

     Mr Deputy  Presiding Officer, with all that I have said, I want to reaffirm my support to this Motion to the House, because I envision this as a benefit to all persons living on this ‘greatest little island on the planet’, that we call ‘Tobago’.

     Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, let me close by saying, may God continue to bless us all   for this new year 2023, and may He continue to bless our leader, our Chief   Secretary, Farley Chavez Augustine, for leading us thus far, out of bondage.   I thank you. [Laughter] [Desk thumping]

4.36 P.M

We are also hoping on this side, Mr. Deputy Presiding   Officer, that before any implementation of this district fund, that the   policy can be brought back to this honourable House so that it can be   adequately ventilated, debated and approved before any operationalization or   implementation.

     Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, with these few words, I   thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. [Desk   thumping]

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer. The final point I want to highlight from the news article is from the results of the Global Corruption Barometer Pacific, 2021. It records for the first time the perceptions and experiences of corruption among ordinary citizens from ten (10) Pacific countries and territories.

     The results revealed high levels of bribery, ‘sextortion’ and vote- buying. One (1) of the perceived reasons for a high level of corruption, is through the community development fund.

Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, the reason why I took the time to highlight aspects of this article, was to show the experiences of other countries and other territories that would have implemented a similar fund and to ensure that if this district fund is implemented, that the appropriate measures are put in place to safeguard against the misuse of the fund, corruption, and to ensure accountability and transparency, and to reduce and eliminate the negatives that were highlighted in the article.

      Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, I recall some time in 2012, under the

People’s Partnership Government, they attempted a similar constituency fund. I think it was to the tune of ten million dollars ($10m) in the forty-one (41) constituencies, and for some reason, that was not implemented. We may need to consider why that was not implemented, while we look at implementing a district fund here in the Tobago House of Assembly.

      We continue to ask the questions, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer. What are the guidelines for the administration and management of the fund that would ensure equity in the distribution, as well as accountability and transparency? We have one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). If ‘John Doe’ or ‘Jane Doe’ comes, who determines what the priorities are? What is the procurement process? How do we decide who gets what? Who monitors and evaluates the operations of the fund and how is that done? What is the reporting requirement for the expenditure of these funds and what will be the checks and balances to ensure again, accountability and transparency?

       Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, it will be very informative to have these questions answered and we will, apart from sending or forwarding the CPA handbook on Constituency Development Fund, it will also be informative for us to review the current policy that exits.

Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, I beg to move that this House continues to sit until all the speakers have made their presentations and the debate comes to an end.

Question put and agreed to.

      Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, additionally, what will be the procurement or spending guidelines regarding the proposed allocations? Yes, we heard about the financial regulations and we cannot spend outside of that, but that needs to be a little bit more specific as it relates to this district fund.

    I came across an article.  This is an international news article which was published on December 12th, 2022. The article is entitled, ‘Constituency Development Fund. Can it work?’ This news article was reporting on a regional workshop on constituency development funds and anti-money laundering which was convened in New Zealand. This workshop was convened between November 28thand 29th, 2022.  What the meeting sought to do, was bring together parliamentarians along with integrity officials, including Ombudsmen and the leadership commission from the Pacific Region.

      The article described, and the Member in piloting the Motion, would have described the Contingency Development Fund as:

“Funding arrangement that channels funds from the Central Government directly to constituencies for local infrastructural projects. Decisions about how these funds are allocated and spent, are heavily influenced by the elected Member of Parliament.”

     In our case, the fund will come through the THA and our Assemblymen, our Area Representatives would be the one to influence how this fund is expended. At the workshop, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, various Members of Parliament (MP) would have presented and shared their experiences on how community development funds work in their respective countries. As well as, they shared the controlled measures that are in place in their respective jurisdictions. I will share a few comments from the article.

      One (1) MP indicated that his government has all the best systems of best practices in the world, all written down in the form of the national constitution, its statutory laws, subsequent policies and guidelines. The laws are all co-herent and specifically tailored for best practice which includes rules for the applications of the community development fund.

      Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, in this instance at the highest law-making level of the land, the policies; laws of the community development fund is enshrined there.

Another MP highlighted that for a country which is as diverse as his, such as diverse linguistic, cultural, geographical and socio-political environment, interpreting the use and practice of the community development fund in Parliament, provinces and districts, is of a great challenge.

      This time a Permanent Secretary in his presentation (and this is the Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Rural Development) while sharing his country’s experiences, explained that the challenges the Ministry faces everyday in managing the community development funds, include the unfair distribution of funds; mismanagement of funds; absence of proper guidelines; lack of transparency and a lack of capacity.

      Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, we also had the Chairman of the Parliament Standing Committee against corruption who said that it was perceived by many people, that incumbent MPs have unfair advantage over electoral candidates and it is perceived that the incumbent MPs hold on to the community development fund and use it during an election period as a means of ‘vote-buying’.

I also want to share a view from two (2) Ombudsmen who in their presentations, while sharing on the laws that were present in their respective countries to tackle corruption, agreed that reforms are needed in their laws, because corruption has evolved and mutated over the years and is now eating away at the very fabric of their society.

     It was also revealed that the Ombudsman’s Commission carries out regular awareness programmes with leaders at all levels of government on transparency, accountability and good governance.

The final point I wish to highlight from this news article, is from the results of the Global Corruption Barometer.

Thank   you, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer.

So currently, the   Motion speaks to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) per annum,   to be placed under the directive of the Area Representatives, but there is no   mention of the maximum limit. The Chief Secretary would have pointed out, but   in the case of this particular Motion, the Chief Secretary said that it can   go up to ten million dollars ($10m) if funding is available, but in this   particular instance, Members opposite would

have indicated that there is not sufficient funds.

So as we start this   process, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer, it will be instructive to note what is   the maximum at this particular time, that this fund can go to, and is it at   the discretion of the Assemblyman to determine that we can now increase the   fund to probably one million dollars ($lm)? When does it end? When does the   ten million dollars ($10m) kick in, Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer? Again, who   determines the maximum limit?

The Resolution also   speaks to a policy to be developed by the Division of Community Development.   Again, what is the policy? The Member in piloting the Motion, did not really   delve into what this policy is. We would appreciate to see a draft of this   policy that is seeking bipartisan support.

Mr. Deputy   Presiding Officer, we on this side have a lot of questions in relation to   what is being put forward and what is being requested. Some of the questions   include relationship - what is the relationship between the policy and the   funding allocation that would be proposed? Under the district fund, what   types of projects? Some types of projects were identified, but in the identification   of what could be done and what cannot be done, it appears to not be clearly   defined. On one hand, you are saying that social interventions that are   available by the Tobago House of Assembly - the Assemblyman cannot engage in,   while on the other hand, you are saying that you can build ramps and you can   help people with floors. Those are similar services that are available at the   Division of Settlements.

You are saying on   one hand, that you can give bursaries to sporting groups; community   development groups - education bursaries - but on the next hand, those   services are available at the Division of Education and at

the said Division   of Community Development. So where do we draw the line? I think we need to   have some more meat, more details as to how we operationalise this policy.

 Mr. Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair

4:16 P.M

Yes, we would have  heard all the good things that may come, but can these matters be managed as such?

Madam Presiding  Officer, if we also continue to look at citation No. 3, the preamble on the   third paragraph, it says:

“AND   WHEREAS the current funding mechanisms do not always allow for   direct district prioritization and execution of projects;”

Madam Presiding   Officer, I am wondering if this is not a flawed notion in terms of the   funding mechanism which does not allow for direct prioritization?

     Madam Presiding Officer, the question is, who does the Executive Council comprise as spelt   out in Section 34(1) of the Act? In this current circumstance as we find   ourselves, the Executive Council is merely made up of Assemblymen. We started   off at fourteen (14) and now we have thirteen (13) members of the Executive   being Assemblymen. Does the Assemblymen not represent the various electoral   districts?

     The projects that  are undertaken, Madam Presiding Officer, by the  Assembly, where are they located?Of course, the Chief Secretary would have indicated that we are spending over ten million dollars ($10m) in the various electoral districts throughout Tobago. Another question is, are they not in the respective districts   throughout the island? If therefore that is the case, it means that the   funding mechanism is in place for direct prioritization and execution of   projects. What may not be in place, is the relevant priorities of this   Administration, and probably they would have failed to put proper systems in   place to have the projects implemented.

     Madam Presiding Officer, the Minority Leader would have asked the question - if members of   the public were engaged in this process? The Chief Secretary would have said,yes, they were engaged sometime while they were doing the mandate, but do we really know what the needs of the people are, in the various communities?Have we assessed them? Did we analyse them? After we would have done that, then we would have come up with a plan on how to address the issues.

     The Minority  Leader again, would have indicated -1 am not sure if we are diagnosing the   problem correctly. What are we really trying to achieve? If you look at the   Motion in the manner it is placed, I am not sure if what is being prescribed,   is really us solving the issue.

      Madam Presiding  Officer, we have seen where in the recent past, that it appears as if we have   not been meaningfully consulting the people. We saw recently where members of  a particular area had to curse and go on television and social media, because  there were particular changes to the calendar of events for Carnival, and again, because we did not adequately consult with persons. We did not get a full appreciation of what their needs were, so after we would have   implemented a calendar of events different from what would have existed in   the past, we had to go and redo and put it back, because we have not   adequately addressed the issues, the concerns and the needs and identified a   plan to solve those needs.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, I want to emphasize on the point of engagement of the people,   because under the past Administration, there were a number of plans. We have   the Community Development Plan for the electoral districts; the Community Infrastructural Plan, the Community Health Care Plan - and it is not by accident, Madam Presiding Officer, that there are all these amenities in the communities.

     We have multi-purpose communities or community centres in almost every village   throughout the island. Similarly, we have health centres; we have schools - nursery, primary and secondary; we have lighted playing fields; hard courts;   children’s play parks and y-zones strategically placed, Madam Presiding   Officer, and it is not by chance that these developments occur throughout the  length and breadth of Tobago.

     We speak to agricultural access roads, because we understand that farmers need to get in   and out of their farming lands. We also speak to expanding the road network,   and there are so many other amenities in districts   throughout the island. This is why on this side, we are of the view that the   premise upon which this Motion is built, is flawed.

     Madam Presiding Officer, the resolution also speaks to funding of no less than one hundred   and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) per annum, placed under the directive   of the Area Representative...

MINORITY COUNCILLOR (Petal Daniel-Benoit): Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer, for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

        The Motion before us is asking this honourable House to approve this Administration’s implementation of a process of direct district funding of no less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) per annum, to be placed under the direct supervision of the Area Representatives or Assemblymen and to have a bipartisan team review the policy developed by the Division of Community Development, Youth Development of Sport before its execution.

Madam Presiding Officer, the Member, in piloting the Motion, would have indicated that there is a twenty-two (22) draft page document and it would have been nice to have the document before us today, just to review as he calls for the bipartisan team.

       Madam Presiding Officer, I want to get to the meat of the Motion. The Motion is premised, and if we look at the citation, Stanza 2, the preamble to the Motion, it says:

      “AND WHEREAS the THA is responsible for all areas outlined in the 5th Schedule of Act 40 of 1996”;

and that is so under section 25 (1) of the THA Act 40 of 1996. It does provide for the Assembly in terms of its responsibilities.  It says:-

    “Without prejudice to section 75 (1) under the Constitution, the Assembly shall, in relation to Tobago, be responsible for the formulation and implantation of policy in respect of matters set out in the Fifth Schedule.”

   Madam Presiding Officer, if you also go to section 34 (1) under part 3, Executive Council of the Assembly, it speaks to what the responsibilities of the Executive Council are, and section 34 (1) says:

      “The Executive Council shall be responsible for carrying out the functions of the Assembly and the Chief Secretary may, for that purpose, undertake or assign to a Secretary, responsibility for any such function.”

    Madam Presiding Officer, as such, I am wondering if what is being proposed in the way that it is being proposed, really is the responsibility of the Assemblyman, whether or not they have that responsibility as outlined in the THA Act, and if it is not a duplication of duties.

MADAM PRESIDING OFFICER: Councillor Daniel-Benoit.

4:06 P.M.

         Madam Presiding Officer, as the Assemblyman charged with the responsibility for culture and antiquities, we have recognized that culture is the glue that holds all parts together; a tool that weaves health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, sports, housing and more. That is in fact, the divinity of our identity and also serves as a breast plate for our people in the future.

         It will be remiss of me to not use this opportunity and address this House and advocate for the people on how we can capitalize with such an injection of funds into our economy.

        I will add that soon, you will see a re-installation, and re-engagement of culture in our communities. We call it GATCAP, which stands for Guardian Academic Training and Performing Arts Programme. After a hiatus of three (3) years, it is now fully back on stream. The first pilot project would be for nine (9) months which would take us directly into the new financial year.

      This programme is geared towards enhancing and preserving our cultural legacy, while enhancing our tourism product.

     At this time let me take the opportunity to thank my esteemed Secretary of the Division of Tourism Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, Councillor Burris and Administrator Dookoo, for buying into this dream. So, within short order, programmes will be rolled out in the various communities across the island.

        Madam Presiding Officer, I want to take this opportunity to thank our Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy, for listening to the cries of the people; for shouldering his burdens along with our own, but most importantly, for arming and equipping us with the tool to serve the people. It is noteworthy; it is significant, that for the first time in over thirty plus (30+) years, our communities have an injection of funds at their disposal to finally have a chance to create lasting sustainable opportunities for our communities to strive. In case you close your fridge and you did not hear what I said, let me repeat. [Desk thumping] For the first time in over thirty plus (30+) years, our communities have an injection of funds at their disposal.

         Madam Presiding Officer, one may say it is small, it cannot do much, but as our ancestors rightfully said, ‘one one cocoa does full basket’. Though it may not be much, once it is used strategically, it becomes very impactful.  Placing culture at the centre gives us a real opportunity to repair, heal and rebuild our identity - coupled with this financial injection into our communities, surely, we would rise.However, culture is the vehicle for that change.

              As leaders; community activists; Area Representatives; we are all tasked with this exciting undertaking, to bring to life our communities. This means that Ms. Mabel in James Street may need a ramp to get to her home and because of the bureaucracy that currently exists and the urgency of the need, we would be able to help at a faster space in bringing relief to the vulnerable. This also means that we would be able to help more sporting clubs and interest groups once funds permit. I am grateful. The aim is to ensure equity and to maximize benefits throughout our communities.

           As a result of these funds, our communities would be able to be revitalized; our communities would be able to attract investment once done well; our communities would be able to build wealth and our communities would encourage entrepreneurship and job creation. The most noteworthy of all benefit, is bringing back the culture of love and community spirit - [Desk thumping] Tobago love, where ‘lend hand’ was a big deal. [Desk thumping]

        Madam Presiding Officer, with the injection of one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) into our communities as a start, we would begin to realize a dream - family by family, village by village and community by community.

        I would like to challenge every individual on this island to become involved. Document your ideas; share your thoughts with your neighbour and your friends. Start thinking collectively, because we cannot do this alone. This is an opportunity for us to work together in realizing our goal to make Tobago ‘the greatest little island on the planet’.

        I am Megan C. Morrison, and I support this Motion. [Desk thumping]

[Desk thumping]  Madam Presiding Officer, good day; Chief Secretary; to you my fellow   Colleagues; the listening audience; those listening via the web, good day and   a special good day to my electoral district of Mt. St. George/Goodwood, on   whose shoulder I stand here today. May this year bring you an abundance of   everything good for each and every one of you, and Tobago, by extension.

      Madam Presiding Officer,   when I threw my hat into the ring at this level of public service, it was   centred on community activity, outreach and culture The potential I   saw on a community level bolstered my confidence in the vision that I saw of   our beautiful island that we call ‘Tobago’, also known as ‘Alubria\

     The neglect and   poor attention to detail however, have overpowered the greatness that rests   quietly in our citizens and our communities by extension. I felt compelled to   actively join the rebellion to bring about positive change that we all longed   for on this island. [Desk thumping]

     Madam Presiding   Officer, I have been called to service by the people of Bacolet Park, John   Dial, Hope, Mt. St. George, Good wood and part of Goldsborough, to champion   their cause for a more fruitful and purposeful life; for the youths to   blossom and self-actualize so that they can move us into a future that we all   can be proud of.

     Madam Presiding Officer, I made a promise to myself, to never forget the real motive behind my leadership at this level of public service. The system that we inherited failed to meet the needs of the people who we took an oath on December 9th, 2021, to bear true faith and allegiance to We all bore witness to social decline, developmentally   starved communities, exclusion and exploitation. We intend to fix this. [Desk   thumping]

     Madam Presiding Officer, the spirit of each community is   entangled deeply with our youth population. It will be arrogant of us if we   do not recognize the abandonment/disconnect in our youth population and clear   indication that we were missing a key; a tool; an element; a resource   strategy that translate and convert dialogue into action. That was sorely   lacking. I can tell you that it is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Yes,   you might get a little scratch here and there, but unable to unarm or derail   the enemy - enemies such as violence, unemployment, underemployment, drugs,   gang, illiteracy, poverty (the list goes on) elements that have inadvertently   entrenched themselves into the fabric of our society. This Administration   intends to change that. [Desk thumping]

Assemblyman Morrison.

Madam Presiding Officer, the electoral district of Bon Accord/Crown Point overflows with love, for our fellowmen. In fact, many of the initiatives and projects borne out of my office, are kindly sponsored by community businesses and generous residents. While this signals the willingness of residents and business  owners to fulfil their social responsibility, it sometimes limits the amount of persons that could be impacted by these community initiatives. This funding in my community will result in greater community buy-in, and most   definitely, encourage the already present spirit of volunteerism.

     Madam Presiding Officer, could you imagine the joy on the face of the elderly citizens in my district whose quality of life could be   improved, if materials to effect repairs on their homes could be purchased by   this funding, and together with the volunteer carpenters, masons, labourers, their homes are fixed? Could we dare to imagine the little boy or little girl who has a passion for sport that can be nurtured, because we have funding available to purchase the equipment needed to hone their skills, along with the volunteer   coaches and sportsmen in the community that will guide and help them along? What about the books and other resources that can be purchased for the plan centre in our community, to assist with reading and general literacy for our struggling children? All these, by making this funding available to   communities.

      Madam Presiding Officer, as we all know, transparency and accountability are hallmarks of good governance. This Administration has always been committed to implementing the necessary measures to ensure that proper governmental  practices are upheld. As such, we need a clear, well thought-out policy   guiding direct district funding, one that takes into consideration, among other things, proper procurement practices, monitoring and evaluation, as well as implementation planning for projects proposed by each district.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, we are not a team that strives to unfairly delegate funding to   districts. This policy transcends partisan politics to ensure that each   district has an equitable distribution of funding.

     I wish to urge   those on the other side, to not allow this Motion to be mired and shaped by   petty party politics. It is important that we place the interests of the   people of Tobago above personal or political interest.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, as I seek to end my maiden contribution, I express my profound   gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a part of this Administration.

     I thank Almighty   God for His continued favour and blessing upon my life, as I continue to   serve with distinction and class, as desired by Him.

     I wish to thank the   Chief Secretary, the Honourable Farley Chavez Augustine, for the opportunity   to serve Tobago.

     I wish to thank the   persons in my electoral district for bestowing the confidence in me and   giving me the opportunity to serve, not only the electoral district, but the   people of Tobago. Your love, encouragement and support continue to strengthen   me as I grow on this journey.

     I urge all of us to   do the necessary introspection and to take the necessary action to ensure   that we play our respective roles in making the Tobago dream a reality. I   thank you. [Desk thumping]

3.56 P.M

Madam Presiding Officer, we on this side have always been   aware that community empowerment is fundamentally important. As a matter of   fact, one of our campaign promises speaks to empowering our communities   through direct district funding. We know and understand that the communities   themselves are aware of their particular needs and challenges.

I listened to Minority Leader 1, as he made mention of the   ten million dollar ($10m) campaign promise. However, our present financial   reality does not allow for our funding to each community in the quantum that   we would have liked, but as we like to say, "Drop drop does full   bucket". From my perspective, little is much when God is in it;   something that the Minority Leader and the organization that he represents,   know nothing about. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) can do   more than what was done for twenty-one (21) years under the organization he  represents. [Desk thumping] [Crosstalk]

(Mr. Joel Sampson): [Desk thumping] Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. It gives me great pleasure to join the debate this afternoon in my capacity as the proud Representative of the electoral district of Bon Accord/Crown Point. [Desk thumping]

Madam Presiding Officer, permit me to thank the Secretary of the Division of Community Development, Youth Development and Sport for having the foresight to initiate this conversation today. Thank you Secretary Baynes for this timely, relevant, well presented and well articulated Motion.  Big up your whole self. [Desk thumping]

             Madam Presiding Officer, this Motion is indeed a critical one as we collectively work towards becoming the ‘greatest little island on the planet’. This quest cannot be achieved overnight and it definitely cannot be achieved without acknowledging and accounting for the different needs of the electoral districts throughout Tobago.

           Madam Presiding Officer, each Area Representative has been elected by the people of the district to serve them with distinction. A major aspect of proper representation, is meeting the people at the point of their needs. Unfortunately, our current method of meeting those needs simply does not work well. For the simplest of things, we have to go through the relevant Divisions to remedy problems.  Such issues that can and should be quickly rectified, can take inordinately long periods of time as they often have to join the que of things that are on the agenda of the respective Division. This practice is burdensome, onerous and often times just plain tiresome.

           If I need a dustbin, I have to call Dr. Faith; if I need a basketball net, I have to call Assistant Secretary Clarke (‘wasp’). If an elderly villager’s house needs a few boards replaced, I have to call Assistant Secretary Pollard (‘whity’). This simply cannot continue as is. To overcome these operational hurdles, we have to become creative.

        Madam Presiding Officer, allow me to also look at this form from another angle. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines ‘empowerment’ as the ‘granting of the power, right or authority, to perform various acts or duties.’ ‘The greatest little island’ begins and ends with great people, and by extension, communities being empowered to do great things. This important level of empowerment is often overlooked. Our residents’ village councils, cultural clubs, community-based NGO, churches and grassroot organizations need to be empowered within our communities; something which we all would agree upon.

 Assemblyman Joel Sampson.

3:46 P.M.

            2. When that process is completed - and I do not think (maybe I am wrong - that that should not take a bipartisan committee more than a month to do. The Member mentioned about one (1) month’s time - once that is completed, the Executive Council can have further consultations on the matter if that is desired; if that is recommended by the bipartisan committee.


But by that time, you would have reviewed what the workers; what the technocrats at the Division of Community Development are suggesting we use as the methodology; as the process for engagement to give the best, the most efficient and the most accountable process by which this fund can be executed. It allows for wins all around.

           The Minority is free to say at any juncture, that they do not want to participate in a project like this and then we will have to pivot accordingly.

Certainly, I would point out that the Area Representative for Roxborough/Argyle, Minority Leader No. 2, who threw up some stuff, wanted ten million dollars ($10m) and ran away - I can say as of now, that we are not there yet with ten million dollars ($10m). As I pointed out in the mandate, (it is written clearly) that the aim is ten million dollars (10m), but we would start as funds are available. In fact, we do not want to wait until Tobago is in a position to have ten million dollars ($10m) assigned to this programme to start. We are saying that we are starting with what we have, and we will build over the years.

              I believe I heard the Member also spoke to a review process, meaning that after at least after one (1) year of the policy being placed, the policy would be reviewed for effectiveness and all of that, so you have the opportunity even at a year afterwards, to have additional tweaks made to allow for greater efficiency in the roll-out of the policy that was placed.

            I want to end, Madam Presiding Officer, by pointing out the irony and perhaps the rank hypocrisy of quoting that scripture in Timothy. I learned a long time ago when I was in Sabbath school, and I heard the story of the devil talking to Jesus on top of that high mountain and telling Him to jump off and so on.  I learnt through that story, that even Satan knows how to

quote scriptures. I have learnt a long time that people who quote scriptures

themselves and so frequently, sometimes are the most laughable ones in the bunch.

                I want to point out the rank hypocrisy in this notion of a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. It is no secret that there was a falling out that happened between the Area Representative for Roxborough/Argyle and the rest of this team.  A lot has been said, but quite a lot has not been said and purposefully so. I have perhaps been quieter than I should be, amidst all that were said.

             I want to point out very clearly, that the time for talking will come and I hope when I begin to speak and to show very clearly, that present and imminent threat to Tobago’s development, that no one will cry shame on me for speaking that which is truthful. Then we will get to see all those who have that form of godliness; who could dress in priestly robes and quote the scriptures, but be as satanic as it comes.

          Presiding Officer, I hope this is a policy framework that this House can adopt. I hope in a mature way that both sides (the majority and Minority) can sit on the draft prepared by the workers in the Division of Community Development. I think the Member said it is twenty-two (22) pages long and uses the toolbox from the CPA as the guide. In fact, it is our desire that that be adopted and that we have the most efficient policy that would allow for this kind of activity to take place. It does not take away from the work every Secretary in here must do for the entire island. It does not stop all the big ideas from being rolled out.

               Madam Presiding Officer, furthermore, it is to ensure that we are not guilty of vertical development and not sufficient horizontal development; that we are not guilty of trying to build sky scrapers everywhere; build big fancy things everywhere and the simple little things are not done in the communities. That is why this was envisioned; that is why this was called for; that is why it ended up in the mandate and that is why we are now projecting it in this House to be considered or to create and form the policy.

         Yes, policy is not law in and of itself. Law is a tool by which you can carry out policy. Policy can be created without a law being assigned to it, and of course that adds to the autonomy argument; the autonomy question which we would not get into now, but this presents a privilege for every Area Representative that I hope we can take and make good use of.  Thank you [Desk thumping]

3:36 P.M.

     In terms of timeframe - and that is a legitimate question   I believe, because we do not want to set this up as a way to bring social   relief to people and then a whole year has passed and you cannot get it. In   fact, I will be most annoyed if that is the case, because that will then be a waste of the Area Representative’s time and a waste of the District Council   that has to be formed around the Area Rep. It would be a waste of everybody’s   time. So I believe that when the special committee meets, that they can work   out a mechanism by which within a space of no more than two (2) weeks, the   request of the community can be facilitated, whether it is a request to get   some stuff from a hardware; to get some stuff from a sports store or to get   some stuff from a bookstore, as the case maybe.

     I want to point out though, that the issue of liability   will continue to be borne by the Division of Community Development, because   as I listen to the Member, I am sure that I heard him speak about the   Division of Community Development being in charge of the fund and in charge   of its use. So the liability would not rest with the Area Rep, but with the Division that has to   procure the things needed by the district. [Outside musical disturbance]  Apologies - we probably need to soundproof the House. Apologies to those   listening online.

Madam Presiding   Officer, we heard about the matter of the ex-gratia payment coming up and I   want to address that. In fact, the Executive wished that it would have been   paid by December 31st, 2022. In fact, that is what the original Executive   Council Note said. The Accounting staff across the Divisions are the ones who   asked, in fact, begged. They said, “No, please, we are begging; we need some   extra time. We can work for the month of January”. We said, “Okay, we will   work with your time line”.

     The promise for   the ex-gratia was never ten thousand dollars ($10,000). It was never that. I do   not know where that came from. It was one thousand dollars ($1,000) and it   will be one thousand dollars ($1,000).

     Further, Madam   Presiding Officer, the Member for Roxboro ugh/Argyle pointed out that the   only ex-gratia that was paid, was those promised by Trinidad. Let me point   out how that was paid. Most people would not   know that long before we got the releases from Port of Spain for that   ex-gratia, that we paid it upfront and waited for our monies on the return. [Desk   thumping] That is how they got paid. We were not waiting on their   releases. We paid it up front before the releases arrived. That is a fact.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, one of the pitfalls that the Member sought to avoid, why he spoke   about the issue of bringing the community together; having a process by which   the Area Rep gives recommendations with supporting documents and send it to   the Division before the action, is because we do not want to have a situation   as outlined by the CPA, whereby this can be misused or used in ways that   should not.

     In fact, as an Area Rep, if you   know you have one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) available to   your community, (it is not to your disposal that you can just go in and dip   out and spend. I have explained that before) Madam Presiding Officer, I am   certain that the Area Rep will do a delicate balancing act, meaning they will   not use that one hundred and fifty thousand dollars   ($150,000) to see about funeral expenses when there exists a social programme   treating with funeral expenses for those who are absolutely in need. The Area   Rep more than likely, will balance and joggle the money.

     The question of,   “why one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000)”, Should it be more?   As I explained earlier, when the bipartisan committee meets; when they look   at the thing, when they explore the draft policy that the Division prepared -   and we did not prepare that policy. The workers in the Division pulled that   together for the Executive. We said that we are not going to just approve   that policy; that we prefer a bipartisan committee meets, explores it,   interrogates the thing and look at all the possible pitfalls. We threw into   the mix, the toolbox from the CPA, to allow the process to be guided   properly.

     On that basis,   Madam Presiding Officer, if when that bipartisan team meets, they make a   recommendation that the starting figure for that fund should be, let us say,   a little larger (because it certainly will not be ten million dollars   ($10m) per district), then that is something that we can in fact, consider.   However, we are simply asking two primary things - that 1, this House   considers forming a bipartisan committee to review the draft policy and be   guided by the toolbox created by the CPA.

     Let me say, Madam   Presiding Officer, that this Tobago House of Assembly is in fact, a   Parliament. This is by definition, a Parliament. It is just called the Tobago   House of Assembly. The Tobago House of Assembly is a Parliament. What we have   at the Red House, is also a Parliament. As a THA, we have participated and   continue to participate in programmes run by the Commonwealth Parliamentary   Association. So it is not strange that the CPA is being used as a reference   point for guiding how this bipartisan team will look at this matter.

     I am prepared,   Madam Presiding Officer, to ask the team, subsequent to the draft that will   be done by the bipartisan committee (after they look at the first draft and   they make their recommendations), to even put this out to the wider public   for more conversations, in whatever form, on what that should be and what   that can look like.

     The idea, Madam   Presiding Officer, is that this fund is not meant for the Area Rep to go out   giving people work. It is not meant for the Area Rep to go and build   highways. It is not meant for the Area Rep to go and replace the Executive.   As I pointed out, in every district, contrary to how the Area Rep for Darrel   Spring/Whim feels, I am certain that we have spent more than ten million   dollars ($10m) already, in roads or rent. The fund is not meant for that, but   it is a very good starting point in bringing Tobagonians back to that place   of volunteerism.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, do you know how much saving the THA will have? For example, (I will   give you an example) the jetty on the main­land in Speyside needs some   upgrade works; some painting. Do you know what I said to the Division? I   said, ‘T do not want you all to come in and paint the jetty. I would much   prefer that we get the paint and I call out the Village Council and we go out   there and paint it ourselves. Get the right type of paint for   us. If you want, you can send your Engineers or whoever, to come and make   sure that we paint it properly”. That kind of volunteerism saves money   because at the end of the day, it saves us from having to contract somebody   to do those services.

     Why should the THA   contract somebody to assist the elderly to have a little entrance to go into   their house, or contract somebody to go and just beautify and paint a park?   Those are works that can be done by the community and can be funded through   this fund, which will be held for all of us as Area Reps, at the Division of   Community Development.

     I hope, Madam   Presiding Officer, that I have provided a lot more clarity, in stating that:   1. All that the Division has, is a draft policy that has not yet been accepted   by the Executive. The Executive Council desires that the Minority Leader   joins us in a bipartisan way, to review that draft while being guided by the   toolbox created by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

3:26 P.M.

To avoid that, the decision was taken by the Administration to do two (2) things: –

1. To be guarded and guided by the recommendations of the tools, and I believe that there are six (6) tools identified in that toolbox by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). So to be guided by that handbook; and

2. Instead of what is typical of the Assembly whereby by the time it gets here, the Executive Council has already passed the policy and agreed on a Note and we are just coming to say that we are doing it.

3.  Instead of doing that, the Division has decided that it will seek a  bipartisan audience to sit down, look at the draft policy, be guarded and guided by the toolbox created by the CPA and then present the final policy which, of course, will require an Executive Council Note, because as the THA is structured, you have to have that Minute as an authority for which something can be done, especially when it comes to the spending of monies.

       I thought that there was no harm in that process, so much so, Madam Presiding Officer, that I met with Members of the Minority in November, 2022. We met and we discussed security. We were to have a second meeting. In fact, the day we were to have that proposed second meeting, I called to see if the meeting could still happen and I did not get onto the Minority Leader.  We met on the November 29th, 2022 and in that meeting - and the Minority Councillor is here - I indicated that this is something we have been discussing for almost a year; it is something we campaigned on and I indicated to them that it is something that I would want to have bipartisan discussion on. So the Motion today really and truly, should not be of any surprise to Members opposite. The pledged as per the Progressive Democratic Patriot (PDP) mandate, was that once elected, we would seek to have ten million dollars ($10m) allocated per district or as funds are available. That is clear in the mandate. It was not final that it would be ten million dollars ($10m). In fact, I want to clarify something for the listening public so that they do not become misled by quite frankly, the faecal matter that was spewed a while ago, passing for logic. [Desk thumping]

          In fact, Madam Presiding Officer, I made it a case during the last campaign when I spoke on this matter, to point out to the public that we were looking to go into office and from the outside.  We cannot not say what we would have there and what would be available. We would want to have this kind of fund built all the way up, to about ten million dollars ($10m) per district, but we would start with what might be available.

That is why in the Motion, the Member said no less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). In fact, after the bipartisan team meets and they discussed and looked at the thing, they may come back and say, “Look, we have to find some more money. The one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) would not be enough.  We need to go up to three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) per district”. The opportunity is given to parties on both sides to sit and discuss this matter in a very mature way; use the prescription of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

(the toolbox) so that we could prevent all the pitfalls we have seen in other jurisdictions and roll out a first of its kind for Tobago and allow for some greater efficiency on the ground at the local level.

          Further, Madam Presiding Officer, I hasten to point out that the Minority Leader 1 referenced countries like India and so on, who have this programme, and said it is only Third World and developing and poor countries that really have this. Truth be told, India is not qualified as a ‘poor’ country anymore. Their GDP is fifth in the world.  They have a trillion dollar base-economy, and I guess like everywhere else, they have large numbers of poverty and if you have one point one billion (1b) people, that number would be large. Even the mighty United States of America as a First World country has large numbers of poverty and trillions of dollars in debt. This mechanism is meant, Madam Presiding Officer, to be able to give to Area Representatives some additional responsibilities that they do not now have. Responsibility might be the bad word, since we are talking about

words and I am being precise with words today - privilege, that they do not now have.

          Let me make it clear that in every electoral district on this island, more than ten million dollars ($10m) is spent every fiscal year already. [Desk thumping] So the Area Representative for Roxborough/Argyle, made it appear as if ten million dollars ($10m) is not spent in his area, it must be ludicrous. In every district, more than ten million dollars ($10m) is spent. When you look at how much has to be spent on road infrastructure; for drainage; for patching; for the schools - when the school roofs are leaking and they have to be changed, that is being spent in the district. When you look at the books; the technology being instituted in the schools, more than ten million dollars ($10m) as we speak, is spent in every single electoral district. That should not be confused, Madam Presiding Officer - muddied, with what is being attempted here. What is being attempted here, is to relieve some of the pains of Area Representatives for now and in the future.

        I like to govern considering if the shoe was on the other foot. I know what it is to be an Area Representative over there, versus an Area Representative over here. I know what it is, Madam Presiding Officer, to have a salary of just over eleven thousand dollars ($11,000) as a Minority Assemblyman and out of that, having to buy some books for somebody; help with a school sports; help with uniform there; be able to go and help somebody just get some cement to cast a little ramp somewhere; paint a place - I know what it is to do that. I know what it is to spend long hours in my office in Speyside calling ‘Hither’, ‘Tither’, ‘Yonder’, begging everybody, trying to get a little hamper here or there, to get something and everybody telling you no, no, no, no - I know what it is, Madam Presiding Officer, and I will talk my business now. Before now - now that I am married, I cannot do that; my wife might cut off my head, but I know what it is to run to the bank, take a small loan, because I feel like the work in the district is not getting done fast enough. I am not talking about the big jobs, because this fund is not envisaged for the Area Representative to employ people or for the Area Representative to build a highway. That is not what the fund is for. The fund is one that is going to help to generate and regenerate that spirit of volunteerism on the island. The fund means that the community has some access.

          When I listened to the Member for Bethel/ New Grange, he spoke about formulating district councils; pulling together all the community-based organizations. I heard the Minority Leader 2 from Roxborough talking as though he did not hear that - pulling together the community; pulling together your district; having them meet with you; having them say, “Look, this is what we have for the year that we could do some projects. What are we going to do?” Maybe we have Ms. Marjorie down the road - because of gangrene, they sliced off one of the feet. She now, cannot enter - she has a wheel chair; she has some steps.  We will apply through this fund and get the materials and as a community, we can go out and do the work - volunteerism.

          I think someone misinterpreted what the Member said.  He said while the Area Representative has directive over how the fund is used, the Area Representative does not have the fund in his or her possession. I do not want anybody to go away thinking that we are conceiving a policy where an Area Representative will have directly to his hands, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) to go withdraw and spend as he wishes. That is not what this fund is about. That is why the Member also spoke about ensuring when applications are done to get stuff. Let us say for example, you need some cement and some bricks to do a quick thing for somebody, and you are applying, you are required to have your quotations and so on submitted, along with a formal application process that will allow accounts to do their due diligence.

Madam Presiding   Officer, I have heard from the two Minority Leaders - Minority Leader left   and Minority Leader right; Minority Leader 1 and 11.

     One Minority Leader seems to think that this is not such a   great idea, that we should not put some funds for this and the other Minority   Leader feels that the money is not enough - give ten million dollars ($10m).

     I want to start my submission by looking at where this   idea was borne. When we campaigned - we decided in fact, since 2017, that we   will not have a manifesto, but we will have a mandate. I will explain what   that means. In fact, when we got to the election campaign of January 2021, we   presented a mandate. When it was tied 6/6, one of the reasons why we won so convincingly - we went back out to the ground; we spoke with people; we  reformed the mandate. The mandate was actually advised by the people. The  things in the mandate came from the people. So this idea is not just coming   from nowhere; it is not just being plucked out of a back pocket somewhere. It came from discussions that were had with the people of Tobago.

     Secondly, Madam Presiding Officer, this Motion is simple.   In fact, the resolution is simple. The resolution does not purport to say   that the policy is HON. CHIEF SECRETARY (Cont’d)

final and completely drafted. In fact, the Member spoke to   the fact that he has a draft policy of just about 22 pages. So what the   Member sought to do, was to ask this House to set up a special committee that   will review that draft policy, and while reviewing it, will also look at the   toolbox created by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. In fact, the   reason why the Member distributed that toolbox, was because as great as the   idea is, we too have found instances around the world, where funds like this   have not been managed properly.

Members, Members please, please.

Thank you very much, Madam Presiding Officer, and thank you for this opportunity to enter this debate, coincidentally, as the Member for Roxborough/Argyle in his typical worthless Area Representative style, leaving without ... [Desk thumping]

So we promised the people of Tobago, ten million dollars ($10m) and when we promised them that, it was to create employment at the local level, because ten million dollars   ($10m) can employ people. Ten million dollars ($10m) can build bridges;  drains; can clean up things, get things working again. It was supposed to commence from the Development Fund. It is only one hundred and fifty million dollars ($150m) - not much. I have seen roads being paved for seventy million   dollars ($70m); one hundred and something million dollars, but that is for   one little area, to benefit a few. We are talking about the whole of Tobago,   where when the year comes, you would see development commensurate equal to the thinking and the forward ability of your people. Nothing could be better than that.

      We have seen Tobagonians year after year, vote and support   political organizations and in return, they receive nothing; no development in   their area. We were saying it was development that was on steroids. Give them   ten million dollars ($ 10m). They come back here and say nothing less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000).

      I am also concerned about the promises that are being made   in this chamber, to Tobagonians. We promised them that they would get their   gratuity before late December - and we are talking ex-gratia payment that is,   Madam Presiding Officer. Tobagonians lay wait for their ex-gratia payment,   but the only persons who got their ex-gratia payment, were those who were   promised theirs by the Minister of Finance. We inside here, are calling   Tobago a country; Tobago a government, when the only thing that persons got  that resembles ex-gratia payment, was promised by Trinidad and was given by Trinidad.   Our word to the people of Tobago means nothing to them. We are promising them   and we cannot deliver. We are talking big, creating hopes and we are letting   them down.

      Madam Presiding Officer, it is my belief that this one   hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), paltry as it is, small as it   is, will be another roost; will be another ‘magic trick,’ something that you   will see on this hand and it will disappear and they will pull it out through   their sleeves. We need to end that. Tobagonians are expecting more from those   who hug up office, hold on to it and would not give it up - because   clearly, they have lost their mandate based on the Civilnet's  evaluation. Anybody at twenty percent (20%) should resign and call for a   fresh mandate, but they are holding on to power. It is all they have. There   is nothing for those persons to go back to.

     Madam Presiding Officer, I see you are pulling your mike.   I will pull mine a little closer too, because I want to wrap up. In wrapping   up, I will say that the Motion, while it bears the resemblance of something   noble, of something good; while it reminds the people of the ten million   dollars ($10m) that we spoke about, something substantial, something that   should have really been managed by what is called a ‘Community Council’, that   which represents every structure of our society - and so when we sit down to   discuss, it will be a full discussion, open and transparent and chaired by   the Assemblyman, so it gives him the right to interact with his constituency   or his electorates to make proper decisions, we are now seeing it watered   down - trickled down to muddy water.

     I want to close by saying, that all mutual funds are not   the same and it may be time for us to call a fresh election because clearly,   my friends on the other side have run out of ideas.

     I thank you, Madam Presiding Officer.

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer.

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. We may need a pet   detective inside here soon.

Members.

Assemblyman Duke.

There is a dog on that side - I am hearing barking.

Listen. [Crosstalk] Excuse me, Members.

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. I heard a howling on   that side. Trust me, I did not look. Again, I am hearing the barking. I am   hearing the barking again, Madam Presiding Officer. There has to be a dog on   this side. There is a dog on this side...

Members, Standing   Order 44.

Please, Assemblyman Duke, I am guiding you with the names

3.16 P.M

... or it resembles it, or simply called, an ‘imitation’.   This is an imitation,  Madam Presiding Officer. This is what it is, but the   man who - God forgive me - they could have chosen no better presenter of   this, than the person who delivered (it is in keeping with who they are) this   Motion for them.

  The script does not end at verse five. It speaks about   having the form of Godliness, but denying the power, thereof. I will just   stay there. A word to the wise is sufficient.

    Today, Tobagonians are asking where are the jobs - the ten   thousand (10,000) jobs that I promised Tobagonians, as the leader of the   Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP)? We are supposed to provide jobs.

   Madam Presiding Officer, is it thunder or some dog down in   that corner? Could you please get the pet people to remove the animal from   that side? Thank you. [Crosstalk]

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. I understand it. We are concerned in Tobago right now, that this Motion reminds me of a Scripture, and I know some people tell themselves that there are plasters, right? However, this Motion reminds me of a particular scripture - 2 Timothy 2:5 ‘Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’. Having the form of something, but it does not have the effect of that thing. We will call it a ‘generic drug’ - yeah yeah, it is the same thing. This one is cheaper or a look alike.

Members, we are guided by the Standing Orders of this House. Please allow the Member to continue his presentation.

        Continue, Assemblyman Duke

3:06 P.M.

Madam Presiding Officer, in December 2021, Tobago went to the polls and they voted for an idea that those who sit in this room calling themselves ‘Independents’ would have championed. It was a community fund that boasted of ten million dollars ($10m) per district. People are concerned about big money being spent on a yearly basis, and yet it is not being reflected in the various electoral districts. That promissory note; that idea was to comfort every single electoral district in knowing that at the end of each year, you would have saved over ten million dollars ($10m) insofar as infrastructural developmental projects or even social projects of a particular nature, are concerned.

           I recall I championed the idea. I said to the people that such funding would be taken from the Development Fund. I read here in the miserable Motion an idea that gave me, I would say, a feeling of nausea.  When I read in this Motion - the composer of this Motion stating that the current funding mechanisms do not always allow for direct district prioritization and execution of projects, I almost ripped the paper to threads.

            Madam Presiding Officer, how could you begin to promise people something, yet at the same time, you are making excuses for not delivering on the promise? I wonder who is the composer of this Motion. Definitely there is a separation between the composer of this Motion and the deliverer of this Motion. One does not know what he is writing and the other does not know what he is saying. They are speaking of two different things. One would have gone to places of India, Jamaica and they spoke very nobly of what community funding is used for. Then they came to Tobago and began to speak nobly also of what this money should be used for and what it should not be used for.

          As we continue to examine this Motion, we recognize that the money put forward to equip the communities is vexatious - twelve thousand, five hundred dollars ($12,500) per month, to do what? To do what, Madam Presiding Officer? This is the question. When one considers that for the entire fifteen (15) districts of Tobago, you are spending one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) each - and I will take my time and

Compute. I want it to be fresh. Let us just do the math quickly. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) multiply by fifteen (15) districts will give you two million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($2,250,000). Do you know what that is? That is the cost for what my good friend on the other side would fondly call ‘Stage in the Sea’.

           Madam Presiding Officer, I feel to vomit. It creates a churning in my stomach that good and sensible people will sit in this House and divide among Tobago’s fifteen (15) districts, the cost that they would have spent on creating the fund they called ‘Stage in the Sea’, and they come here and look like decent and respectable people. I cry shame upon them. They are a mockery of what we stood for, hence I understand the point that they are now ‘Independents’, and so I am troubled. How could the districts of Speyside, Charlotteville, L’Anse Fourmi, Parlatuvier, Castara (all the places behind there), spend twelve thousand five hundred dollars ($12,500) per month? To do what? If you were to divide that by the number of persons who are estimated to be in a district (call it four thousand dollars ($4000))

you would find it to be three dollars and thirteen ($.13) cents per person, per district. If we were to hire two (2) persons and place them to work with my good friend across there, who is in charge of the Division of Infrastructure, and we were to pay them six thousand dollars ($6,000) per month which is basically reasonable - anybody under that is really working for a poverty salary or what we would call ‘subsistence wage’. Anybody working for anything less than that, is working for ‘subsistence wage’. Let me say to you, that six thousand dollars ($6000) could only hire two (2) persons for a year, but that is not the bad part. The bad or the ‘worser’ part (that is what we say sometimes: it ‘worser’ than mars), is where they are saying, “the funding mechanisms do not always allow”, as if to say they are starting with an excuse, when we know the THA Act simply states that all our funding comes from the Central Government, as it is placed in the Tobago House of Assembly fund. They have no problem withdrawing on that fund, because they have been using the fund willy-nilly to do all types of insane and

uncalled for projects. But again, what do they care? The modus operandi of my Colleagues is simply, I am an ‘Independent’.  I do not care. It is all of us, for ourselves and God for us all. Every man for himself and God for us all”. That is what they operate by. There is no sense of commitment to the people of Tobago.

          I stand here today and I am asking myself what could twelve thousand, five hundred dollars ($12,500) do per month, for the Roxborough/Argyle district; for the Scarborough/Calder Hall district; for the Darrel Spring/Whim district? What could it do for the Plymouth district? What could it do for those districts?  Nothing - it can do nothing - it is a mockery. Then you are telling them they may not even get it because of the funding requirements.

        I learned today that there are several persons who have not even been paid their salaries; persons in the Tobago Emergency Management Authority (TEMA) and persons elsewhere who have not been paid their salaries. As I stand here today, I have read the papers this week, the Business Guardian,

and on top of that, Madam Presiding Officer, they are saying that money is running out from the Tobago House of Assembly. I am saying, “Well, we expect money to run out because the way they are spending the money, it is like someone who turned on the tap, which comes from a tank and then left the tap on and think because the pressure is heavy, the water will never run out. It is a tank - a tank is a finite source and if it is a finite source… Madam Presiding Officer, I am hearing something like thunder in the background, could you please use your magical powers and snap that thing for me.

Madam Presiding Officer, I thank you for this occasion to   speak on behalf of my constituency, my electoral district of   Roxborough/Argyle, and also on behalf of the people of Tobago.

No problem.

     I could share briefly one (1) example. I was in the   retreat with the Local Government Bodies over the weekend and one (1) of the   challenges they have, because Local Government has to go through the   bureaucracy of the Central Government - we may have a road like the road in   Spring Trace, where persons are clamouring for the road to be fixed, and I   may have my one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) and decide ok,   those people really need a road; let me put up for that road. The people got   so impatient, they started to protest. The Division might very well say, “Let   me go down and fix the road,” but I am waiting for this system and all the   wheels to turn, so I end up, coming closer to the end of the financial year -   the Division went and paved the road. I have already put up for the road; the   money is not approved; the financial year is closed, so I cannot even put up   for a next project; I lost that opportunity. So these are some of the real issues.

     What about liability? Just yesterday I got a call from a   resident in Sangster’s Hill about a roadway that was done by the Division of   Infrastructure. The gentleman started the conversation, “You all impeached on   my property...” and I had to explain to him, “Sir, I am the Representative.   What I do, is advocate. I would advocate for things; goods and services and   for your issues to be treated with, but I do not implement” .

     So the liability of implementation lies with the Division   of Infrastructure, but in this situation now, what would be added to the   Representative, is a liability to which he has no control. When the project   is implemented, what Miss Jill or Brother Jack know, is that I went to the   Representative, he put up for the project and this is the situation. [Crosstalk]   So in my view, [Crosstalk] I applied; I requested; I asked; I begged -

synonyms; all the same meaning. [Laughter]

     Madam Presiding Officer, perhaps good idea, but the   Secretary needs to do his research; go and talk to the people of Tobago,   wheel and come again, and we will consider it.

I thank you. [Desk thumping]

Member, a small reminder: you have five minutes.

2:56P.M

My thing is, you don’t take ‘bull-d-fay’ to go and   look for something in the night, that you can see in the day. If we are   seeing in these countries, all these issues of accountability; of duality of   roles emanating, then why are we going and pick up trouble? This document is   saying that this thing here, as good as it sounds, is very troublesome to   implement.

     Another important consideration which I am not too sure -   because if the Member had really perused the document properly - actually in   at least all the cases that I have read, this fund would have been enshrined   by law; it was backed by law. It was not simply that you come with a Motion,   you agree and you go forward. This fund is actually legislated by Parliament,   so it tells you what you could do and what you cannot do, and anybody who   choose to breach it, will find themselves having to answer to the law.

     But if you create a policy - really and truly, as much as you create a policy, it does not have the same kind of teeth that a law   would have and therefore, we have   to ask the question, whether we as a quasi, law-making body, has the   authority to implement this as law - not as policy, but as law.

     Madam Presiding Officer, when I look at this document, I cannot help as I said, but talk   about the issue of accountability and priorities. The question - what is   going to be the system that would ensure that checks and balances are done? Who determines the priorities in the various communities? That is why I asked, “Did we consult? Who determines? Does it put undue pressure on the Representative?”. Now persons believe that you can in fact, make wine out of  water, because you are giving me one hundred and fifty thousand dollars   ($150,000) and we know how the politics go. When somebody goes to the   Division of Infrastructure and complain about their bad road or their bad   drain, you will tell them to go by the Member for Darrel Spring/Whim, because   he has money to deal with that. Now the person believes that the   Representative who you said has money to deal that, but does not have it, and it cannot be done -   when the next time comes around, because the Member was not able to deal with   that, they are considered a bad Representative.

     I hope that this is not the intention of this   Administration - to abdicate itself from its responsibility to govern Tobago,   because I heard the Secretary also mentioned what the fund is, and what the   fund is not, but with no detail as to tell us exactly what will apply and   what will not apply.

     He said in one breath, that you cannot apply for some   social services, but we do not know the limitation of that. He talked about   bursary, and we know that there is a financial assistance in the Division of   Education, so what would differentiate that financial assistance from   somebody coming to me and saying, “My daughter is in Jamaica, she needs help   with her rent.” How would this be administered? Who would administer it? Which Division would administer this fund?

    In our office, we have a small facility that allows us to   employ persons. We do not have persons with that kind of technical   background, to evaluate whether it might be a project or it is a social   worker to assess the needs of persons. So who would determine, or what would   be the criteria used to assess who gets and who does not get? What would be   the criteria?

     Madam Presiding Officer, one of the fundamental things -   you do not just bring policy for policy’s sake or because - this sounds to me   like a populist thing. It is something that if somebody on the street hears   it, it may sound good, because we all know that people are starved to get   things done in their districts, and if persons believe that there is a system   coming that would bring more goods and services to them, they would lap it   up. They would appreciate it, but fundamentally, when money is being taken from   the public’s purse in a new way, you must demonstrate how it would be   valuable and add value to the community.

     The mover of this Motion has not convinced me in any real   way, how this would add value; how this would make the people in the   community (this one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000)) lives   better.

     How does this process allow the Area Representative to add   value, because in one breath he is saying that it would be under the  directive of the Area Representative, but in another breath he said that it is not going to be under the direct intervention of the Area Representative? So what is it? Is it that the Area Representative has control of the fund, or he does not? Do you understand the confusion? If I have a system where I would now have to go through another layer of bureaucracy, then that does not   help me, because ...

    Madam Presiding Officer, when you consider all of this, you ask the questions: do we have the capacity; do we have the framework; do we have the architecture to deal with such a fund? It may sound good in principle, but do we have the systems of governance to ensure transparency? Do we have the systems of governance to ensure that there would not be corruption?

            One of the things that I am seeing here as to why - when you do the diagnosis on why do you develop a fund like this, it is saying that a fund like this is developed to ensure project delivery in the face of ineffective and corrupt local government structures. Is it that the Administration here is confirming that they are in fact, ineffective in their delivery and that they are in fact corrupt? That is one of the reasons purported in this document by the very same Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), why funds of this nature are developed.

         Then they are showing what some of the deficiencies are. Deficiency No. 1 - breaching the separation of powers. That is an important point, because we all know in the Tobago scenario that we have two main bodies of governance. We have the Legislative and we have the Executive. In the Legislative, we are all Assemblymen and there are some Councillors, but the purpose of a Representative is to re-present the issues affecting the man on the ground and the purpose of the Executive, is to implement those issues that you as the Representative brings to the fore. If we were having that done effectively, I would not have had a response from my Colleague for Scarborough/Calder Hall today because I would have re-presented the issues in Darrel Spring, by identifying the roads; the drainages; where retaining walls are needed. Yet the Executive which is the one to implement, is saying to me, “Basically, I did not see that”. The question is, as the Representative, given an Executive that has that kind of position, what would happen with one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), because you are now creating a heightened expectation by the electorate, that all of a sudden your Assemblyman has the power to make things happen directly because he has an allocation? In reality, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) is a drop in the bucket.

            The road in Spring Trace for instance, by the time you pave one hundred (100) metres of road (once we are going with the rates that we are paying right now to excavate) under the current rate, it is two thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars ($2,250). By the time you start to excavate alone, your one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) is finished.

           The point being pointed out here, is how do we treat with the separation of powers? At the same time, one (1) of the fundamental purpose of the Legislature and the legislative arm, is to provide oversight and that is why the Minority is the one chairing the Public Accounts Committee. What we are now doing is jumbling up everybody dealing with

both implementations. It is basically himself to himself, because you are calling now, all of us; all of us are now implicated in the administering of this fund, yet we also have to provide the oversight. That is where this document identified some of the challenges, and that is why I am concerned, because when you look, it is countries that are underdeveloped; countries with weak systems that have adopted this kind of fund. We are seeing the problems.

Member, please allow him to talk.

Minority Leader, continue.

Madam Presiding Officer, I am also concerned because when you look at what the countries that have adopted - because he referred to the handbook on ‘Constituency Development Fund’. One of the things I noticed carefully, is that the countries that have adopted this Constituency Development Fund, are countries that have a number of issues plaguing them. You are not seeing developed countries with such a fund, but I will just like to list it out:


  •  Philippines;

  • Bhutan;

  • Solomon Islands;

  • Kenya;

  • Malawi;

  • India; and

  • Pakistan.


           What this document is saying, is that in these countries, a fund like this is riddled with corruption; it is riddled with malefeasance; it is riddled with poor governance structures and therefore, in an environment where we are seeing inflated costs; in an environment where we ae seeing contracts being sole selected; in an environment where we are seeing…[Crosstalk]

Minority Leader, continue.

        Please allow him to finish his presentation. Thank you.


Madam Presiding Officer, I recognize it is a strategy of this Administration, that every time I am talking to the people of Tobago and they recognize that there are issues that resonate with the people of Tobago, they attempt to disturb me as to distract my presentation, but I will not lose focus and I am sure that the people of Tobago are listening because we saw it in the results of the poll.[Crosstalk]

Member, Member!

Please continue.

Madam Presiding Officer, this was a Campaign promise of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP). I do not know if they are still carrying the mandate or not, but the promise was ten million dollars ($10m) for every electoral district and here we are whittling it down to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). This reminds me of the ex-gratia. The people of Tobago were promised an ex-gratia payment and up to now they cannot get it. It was ten thousand dollars (($10,000) and now we are hearing that it is five hundred dollars ($500). [Crosstalk]

Members, Members. Allow the Minority Leader to continue please.

           Go ahead, Member.

 I am just calling names. I am not calling Members. It seems to me that we were just picking up names and picking up personalities, but we are not seeing about people.

         Madam Presiding Officer, when I looked at this, I am saying to myself - just let us look at the Minimum. What can one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) do? [Crosstalk]

2:46 P.M

We know how districts are. In Darrel Spring/Whim especially the fact that we have now moved from 12 districts to 15 districts - we know how the area is aligned.

         I am voting over in Plymouth/Black Rock, but my residence is in Whim.    If you form a district council and I am part of the SWUM Village Council - yet you are telling me if there is an issue in terms of the district council, because I belong to Plymouth/Black Rock, I have to leave Whim and go all the way down to the district council’s meetings down in Plymouth or Black Rock?

         This is why I am saying – this continues to show that you are putting the cart before the horse. The first thing that should have happened, is us going to the people. That should have been where this thing should have started. Too many times government is ‘top-down’ and not ‘bottom-up’. You all promised the people that it would be as you have rightfully said in this preamble: village by village, community by community, child by child. However, this is Trevor; this is Farley; this is Terance, whoever else, to forget the people.

Thank you, Madam   Presiding Officer. I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this   debate which seeks to establish through what we are now learning, will be   called an ‘Electoral District Development Fund’.

     Madam Presiding Officer, I do not know, but I came here   with the impression that I would have received from the Member for New   Grange/Bethel, a clear outline as to what this policy would be. Instead, what   I received was a cut and pasted document from the handbook on ‘Constituency   Development Fund’. [Desk thumping]

     Madam Presiding Officer, that is lazy work and I do not   know if this Administration is not learning from their mistakes a year after;   after Tobagonians would have said that it was the worst Administration that   they have seen by a poll by Civilnet. You would think that they would   have come together; they would have learnt and this would have been the first   step in indicating to Tobagonians, that we understand what they were saying   to us.

     The first thing is,   who have you consulted? With whom have you spoken? Clearly, not the residents   in the electoral district of Darrel Spring/Whim, because I have not seen a call for a consultation; I have not seen a call for a conversation. I am part   of many of the groups in the Whim area ; NGO, sporting group - football, (I am the   Secretary) and none of these groups have been called to even get an idea as   to what their needs are.

     I am reminded of the story of this little boy who had an   issue and continued getting headaches, and the parent kept carrying him to   the doctor, all the doctor was giving him was ‘Panadol’, to stop the   headache, but recognized that the headache continued; it kept reoccurring. It   was not until they decided to do a CT Scan, that they recognized that it was   in fact, a tumour and what was required, was a surgery to remove the tumour   so that the person can be properly healed.

     It goes to what Mr. Charles, the former Chief Secretary,   used to say. If you misdiagnose the illness, you will mis-prescribe the   diagnosis; you will give them the wrong treatment. At this point, I have seen   no problem analysis. Nowhere in this presentation, has the Secretary outlined   what are the issues that we are trying to address. What is this problem that   is in front of us all, that we are trying to treat with?

     If you have not done a situational analysis, how could you   come up with a policy - because I have heard him say that there is a 22-page   document of which none of us have seen, but yet you are asking us to come   together, (huddle) and then agree in the first instance to huddle, when we do   not even know what we are huddling about.

     For me, I was prepared before I saw the presentation, to   say, “Very good idea. Perhaps let us look at the merit and demerit of it”,   but I do not even know what the idea is. I am clueless and it speaks to a   level of, as I said, laziness, because all you have done - and it is so   embarrassing to the point that you did not even transfer this issue of   ‘Parliamentarians’ to ‘Assemblymen’. [Desk thumping] You just read out   of this handbook, cut and pasted, word for word, line by line, not   understanding that Tobago has its own nuances.

Minority Leader, you may join the debate.

2:36 P.M

     These community   projects can range from the building of ramps for the elderly and the   disabled, to beautifying public spaces; sponsoring of equipment and uniform   for sporting groups; training and capacity building for fishermen and   farmers, among numerous other possibilities.

     Once the project   is conceived and brought to the Area Representative’s attention via a   prescribed format, the Area Rep will affix his or her recommendations and   send the request to the Division of Community Development, Youth Development   and Sport. Supporting documents such as quotations must also be attached to   allow the Division to properly process their submission and honour same.

     Madam Presiding   Officer, we do not want to over prescribe on this matter at this stage,   because we propose to convene a special team of the House (Members on both   sides, both the Majority and the Minority) so that we can massage the rules   of engagement for this proposal.

     At this point, I really want to say that when we were   given this

responsibility by the Honourable Chief Secretary, I had and I have to commend the staff   at the Division who jumped right in and began to work. We now have a 22-page   draft document that will help to kind of chart the course, and this debate in   my view, is going to contribute to the crystalizing of this final document.

     As a government, we   could have said we are going to do this, and this is what we are going to do,   but because of the gravity of this matter, we felt it was necessary to have   an input from the Minority side, and I know that whatever is shared today   (good, bad or indifferent), will impact the final document.

     Notwithstanding,   Madam Presiding Officer, it will be remiss of me not  to inform this   honourable House that in the conceptualizing of the Electoral District   Development Fund and District Councils as proposed earlier in my   presentation, the following general principles of good governance recommended   by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for consideration when such   funds are being established, were rigorously observed. These were responsiveness; transparency; administration and management;   accountability and oversight; monitory and evaluation.

     Importantly, Madam   Presiding Officer, this Administration will adopt into this policy, those   tools in the toolbox created by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for the use of this fund. It is for this reason that copies of the handbook, created by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, would be distributed   electronically, subsequent to this debate.

I thank you. [Desk thumping]

Question proposed.

2:26 P.M

               Commonwealth governments in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, South East Asia and India, have all adopted Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) over the past quarter century. Constituency Development Funds are called by different names in different countries, and are organized according to prevailing national institutional practice.

             They vary widely in size, type of programme and means of organization. On the other hand, they have become popular tools of governance that have enabled parliamentarians (and of course in our case Assemblymen and Area Representatives) to influence the delivery of services in the districts and constituencies throughout the various jurisdictions. Community Development Funds (CDFs), Madam Presiding Officer, provide bursaries for students; support the development of small infrastructural projects in constituencies and help to finance the construction of clinics, schools and community centres, etcetera.

            Globally, Constituency Development Funds were first adopted in India. Ghana’s CDFs was instituted in 1996; Kenya in 2003 and of

course, the CDFs spread to other African countries across the world, thereafter.

            Right here in the Commonwealth Caribbean, Jamaica started their CDF in 2008. Members of the Jamaican Parliament are provided with financial resources to execute approved social and economic programmes within their constituencies.

         The main thrust of the fund, is to promote infrastructural development at the community and constituency levels through the establishment of sustainable development projects.

         According to International Budget Partnership, Constituency Development Fund Schemes, are decentralization initiatives that send funds from Central Government to each constituency, for the expenditure on development projects intended to address particular local needs. A key feature of CDFs schemes is where Members of Parliament and of course, in our case here in the Assembly, typically exert some degree of control over how funds are spent. This is a critical point.

       These funds are designed to support constituency level grass root development projects. They are aimed at achieving equitable distribution of development resources across districts and to control the imbalances in the development brought about by partisan politics. I think I need to say that again.

      These funds are designed to support constituency level grassroot development projects. They are aimed at achieving equitable distribution of development resources across districts, and to control imbalances in developments brought about by partisan politics.

     These funds target all constituency level development projects, particularly those aiming to combat poverty at the grassroot.

     Madam Presiding Officer, as I noted earlier, in the case of Tobago, we propose to call these funds, ‘Electoral District Development Fund’. In explaining further what the Electoral District Development Fund is about, I will first endeavour to explain what the fund is not.


  • It is not a fund to be placed directly into the hands of area representatives or their district office staff;

  • It is not a fund for which its rules of engagement would be decided solely and individually by Area Representatives;

  • It is not a fund to facilitate social support in areas where social support programmes already exist;

  • It is not a fund that will be accessed without adherence to financial rules and regulations of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), (and I put a little note here, ‘repeat twice’);

  • It is not a fund that will be kept in a bank account outside of the THA’s accounts;

  • It is not a fund to be used by any party group or action group or any political party;

  • Additionally, it is not a fund to give to some districts and not to others.  It is for all districts. [Desk thumping]



So whether you are a minority, or (if I may coin a phrase) ‘majority’ the fund is for you.

        It is not the same thing as the ‘constituency office fund’ that is currently available through the work of the House Committee, and is meant to treat with the payment of staff, district offices, purchase of stationery and payment of utilities and so on. Rather, Madam Presiding Officer, this electoral district fund is a fund designed to provide relief to issues plaguing people at the grassroots.

      The fund will start relatively small, then would be reviewed after one year of its existence. Of course, you would hear the term ‘parliamentary’, because of where the reference came from. Involvement at the grassroots community development level has grown considerably across the Commonwealth countries. We here in Tobago, are just the latest in this global trend. Simply put, we are like the new kids on the block, as it relates to this matter.

     Electoral district development fund is a legitimate mechanism for development. This will facilitate the legitimate connection between elected Members of this House and their respective districts.

     The central hope behind this fund, is that local input will promote better targeting of projects to the needs of the constituents, promote more attention to project implementation and place more focus on holding government officials responsible for results by giving the capacity for development to Area Representatives, whose electoral fate will locally be determined - truth be told.  I suspect acid - the question that will come to the fore is: how would this fund work?

    Madam Presiding Officer, we on this side envisage a fund where the electoral district, with final sign-off and recommendations from Area Representatives, will have access to funds and/or materials for community projects that will be completed or executed by the community.  Area Representatives would be required to pull their respective districts together under the umbrella of an entity that we would call ‘District Councils’ by engaging village councils, sport groups, religious organizations, environmental groups, schools and community-based organisations in reviewing the projects that the district desires.


[Desk thumping]

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer, and a very pleasant afternoon

to my Colleagues   and to those who take an interest in what we do here in this honourable House.


The Motion before us reads: -

“WHEREAS   the current structure of the Tobago House of Assembly (T.H.A.)   consists of 15 electoral districts represented by elected Assemblymen;

“AND   WHEREAS the Tobago House of Assembly is responsible for all areas   outlined in the 5th Schedule of Act 40 of 1996;


AND WHEREAS the current   funding mechanisms do not always allow for direct district prioritization and   execution of projects;


AND WHEREAS solid   representation is based on each Assemblyman being able to effectively   represent his or her district child by child, family by family and village by   village;


BE IT   RESOLVED that this Administration implements a process of direct district   funding of no less than $150,000 per annum, to be placed under the directive   of Area Representatives/Assemblymen;


AND BE   IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a bipartisan team reviews the policy   developed by the Division of Community Development, Youth Development and   Sport, before its execution.”


      Madam Presiding Officer, I am humbled by the privilege   afforded me to move a Motion which in my view, has the potential to   revolutionise the way we organize ourselves to involve wider community  participation in our quest to develop this beautiful piece of paradise we call, ‘Tobago’.

     During the election campaign of December 2021, we pledged   that we will be the first government on the island to introduce what is known   around the Commonwealth Parliamentary systems as a ‘Constituency Development   Fund’. In our instance, it will be called an ‘Electoral District Development Fund’


     According to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s   handbook on ‘Constituency Development Funds’ - principles and tools for   Parliamentarians: -


“Constituency Development Funds provide another   opportunity to fulfil our mandate to support Parliamentarians (and in our   case, Area Representatives) and their staff to identify benchmarks of good   governance in accordance with the enduring values of the Commonwealth.”

13th Plenary Sitting Tobago House of Assembly 2021 - 2025 Session

TOBAGO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

26 January 2023
UNREVISED
REVISED
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