Watson Duke wants some rich person to finance him as he hits the road to attempt becoming TT’s next prime minister. He says he has no money for his campaign and uses his salaries as an assemblyman and president of the Public Services Association (PSA) to pay bills from his last campaign for a seat in the Tobago House of Assembly, and to help people.
“They see me spending money and they understand where that money is coming from,” Duke told Sunday Newsday. “Remember, there is no rich person financing me. I long for that. I have no sponsors in this race more than the people of Tobago and Trinidad."
He believes the political party he established before the January 2017 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, holds the trump for him becoming prime minister.
Saying the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) will contest the Tobago East and West seats in next year's general election, Duke feels the constituencies also will allow him to bargain with the leaders of the country's two major political parties – the People's National Movement and the United National Congress – for the country's highest political office. Failing this, he also has his sights set on becoming chief secretary in the next THA election, constitutionally due in 2021.
The PDP won two electoral districts in the 2017 Tobago House of Assembly elections: Belle Garden East/Roxborough/Delaford, and Speyside/L'Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier. Duke is the THA Minority Leader.
Duke said the issues confronting Tobago demands that he cuts back on his responsibilities as PSA president and place greater emphasis on his political career.
"The issues in Tobago are quite different from Trinidad. Tobago feels disadvantaged. They feel unheard. They looking for a voice, someone to stand up, square up their shoulders and say give us our just due," he said.
He said his campaign for the general election will, among other things, focus on facilitating greater equity between the two islands.
"The scales are highly unbalanced. It is way more toward the side of Trinidad, it favours Trinidad more and has been so continuously."
Duke added: "That is why I am aiming to be prime minister, not just to get the medal. We (PDP) want the trophy. We don't want to play in no small league. We want to play in the World Cup. So, I am looking to become the prime minister of this country with those two seats."
According to Duke, Tobagonians have been sidelined and ridiculed for too long.
"They have stated that we have nothing. No gas. No oil. No intellectual capacity. They have shortchanged us in the level of development in Tobago and the level of autonomy they have given to us to direct our own path."
Duke said in order to address the long-standing imbalance, Tobagonians need to understand the two Tobago seats must go to the PDP.
"So, while Trinidad is voting the UNC and PNM, Tobago must vote PDP. If they vote PDP, I can guarantee you the next prime minister will come from PDP. Negotiation is my art. That is my skill. I am a professional negotiator."
Duke made it clear his decision to fast-track his political career is not based on feelings of neglect among residents in his electoral district of Belle Garden East/Roxborough/Delaford. He said while there may be those who feel his job as PSA leader has prevented him from providing proper representation, "the residents have only love for me and I have love and respect for them."
Duke said his decision to hold on to the post of PSA president while serving as Minority THA leader was deliberate.
He said: "I understood fully well that collecting a paltry salary of some $14,000 as a minority leader, you can't do anything with that."
Duke said when he took that salary, he also took a loan to cover bills he had incurred on the campaign trail in the run up to the 2017 THA election.
"So, all of my monthly salary goes back to paying my last campaign bill and those bills will not be paid until January 2021. "And then I will look to take another loan after that and pay back the other bills. I run my campaign by taking loans. So, I need to do two jobs."
Saying he is struggling to make ends meet, Duke claimed his salary as PSA leader is used to assist the people in his electoral district.
"So, when someone comes to my constituency office and they want a bathroom, a roof or money to buy a lunch or to take care of a sick child, I reach into my union salary and I pay. It is using one job to sustain and buffer the other." He claimed the people in his area are aware of this situation.
Duke, who has had a controversial stint as PSA leader since assuming office a decade ago, insists he is not giving up the union, which represents an estimated 80,000 public servants.
Rather, he said he has encouraged the union's executive members to "step up to the plate and do more than they have been doing over the years while I remove myself from Trinidad and relocate to Tobago to fight the battle on this front."
He added: "But if there is water more than flour beyond their capacity to deal with, then I will remove myself from Tobago and go back to Trinidad and fight the fight."
Duke admits the situation is not ideal "but it is what one has to do when you don't have the big money as PNM and the UNC."
He said the PDP, which emerged through "blood, sweat and tears," is making headway because its message resonates with the people.
"They have given us that vote of confidence and in order to maintain that we have to keep working. I will love to give up, but I can't give up."
Duke added workers also require his assistance as PSA leader "because the Government fears no one but the President of the PSA right now."
Asked about his impressions of the PNM-led THA, Duke said both Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley are bereft of ideas.
"I think the PNM in Tobago and Trinidad are the same thing. They have leaders but the leaders cannot lead. To lead, you have to have a vision and they lack vision. What we are seeing from them is a regurgitation of the 1956 old PNM vision."
He went on: "They are dusting the books out and they are putting it back to the people. They are exhausted for political intelligence. There is a hollowness in Charles’ leadership and that of the prime minister."
Duke said while Charles and Rowley may know all the economic and financial terms, they are not people-centred.
"Their shortcoming is that while they are practising governance, they are not governing the governed the way the governed wants to be governed. They are governing based on their own political philosophy and their own ideologies."
However, Duke said government is always about the will of the people.