Ancil Dennis, whose appointment to the position of Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary is now the subject of a possible legal challenge, says he has no qualms about remaining in the position if the PNM wins the 2021 THA election.
He said if his colleagues in the Assembly want him to remain as Chief Secretary after the election, he will graciously accept.
“If that is their will, I will accept,” he said during an interview with Sunday Newsday on Friday. Shortly after being elected to the position on Wednesday, Dennis, 33, told reporters he intends to remain actively involved in politics for a long time.
On that occasion, he also said he hoped Tobago will get its first female Chief Secretary, next year. Dennis was referring to PNM Tobago Council political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who beat Kelvin Charles in the January 26 run-off election.
Davidson-Celestine won with the backing of former Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack and former THA presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus, both of whom had unsuccessfully contested the party’s January 12 internal election. Charles resigned as Chief Secretary on April 30. He also lost his portfolio as Secretary for Education, Innovation and Energy but remains the representative for Black Rock/Whim/Spring Garden.
Dennis’ statement about wanting Tobago to have its first female Chief Secretary, raised eyebrows and was viewed as an acknowledgement that his appointment as Chief Secretary would be temporary.
On Friday, Dennis clarified his statement, saying: “I intend to be in politics for a very long time once God gives me the health and strength. At 33, I intend to represent the people of Buccoo/Mt Pleasant for a very long time.
“But it is important for us to understand and appreciate the traditions, customs and conventions of our politics in TT. “On every occasion, all things being equal, the political leader becomes prime minister in Trinidad and the political leader becomes Chief Secretary in Tobago,” he added.
Dennis said while there is no law outlining such an arrangement “the intention of the party at this time is that the political leader of the Tobago Council will be the next Chief Secretary come 2021.”
Asked, then, if he aspires to become the PNM’s Tobago Council leader one day, Dennis replied: “It is not in my radar at this time.”
He said for now, all of his efforts will be geared towards working with Davidson-Celestine and at the level of the THA, members of the executive, to ensure the Assembly delivers on its objectives.
“One of the things people must understand is that even as one aspires to lead, leaders must also remain good and loyal followers and that will continue to be a main characteristic of my personality.” Charles did not attend Wednesday’s special sitting at the Assembly Legislature to elect the new Chief Secretary.
THA presiding officer Vanessa Cutting-Thomas said Charles had requested leave.
Dennis said he did not feel insulted by Charles’ absence. “Not at all. All of us. All of us are human beings and experience emotions like sadness, disappointment. And all of us experience sickness from time to time as well.
“I am not sure about the reasons for the former Chief Secretary’s absence. It could have been illness or another reason but whatever the reasons are I understand.”
However, the Assembly’s Minority bench is set to mount a legal challenge against the THA for the process that was used to elect Dennis as Chief Secretary.
Minority Leader Watson Duke has argued the existing THA Act does not address the election of a Chief Secretary in instances where the previous office holder has resigned.
Duke said the Minority bench has retained the services of a senior counsel and an instructing attorney to look into the matter. The Assembly, meanwhile, insists the law was not flouted.
Dennis grew up in the tiny, fishing village of Buccoo where he enjoyed cricket, football and “running away to the beach during the August vacation. “It was not a sheltered experience at all. I was exposed to all those usual things that children at the time engaged in.” The father of three attended Buccoo Government Primary School and later Signal Hill Secondary.
Dennis said villagers, particularly those who watched him grow from a toddler into an adult, encouraged him to enter politics in 2013. He said the community wanted a young villager to represent them. “Following those requests, I gave it serious thought and consideration, spoke to a number of persons seeking their advice and then I came to a place where I saw it as an opportunity to serve the people and improve the quality of life of persons that contributed to my development.” He said his interactions with villagers over the years are among his most rewarding experiences in politics, thus far.
Dennis said former Chief Secretary Orville London, with whom he worked from 2013 to 2017, is his political mentor. “I believe in something I tend to call passive mentorship. Yes, there are times when he would actively give advice and mentor me in the past, and even presently. “He has played a tremendous role in my development, his style of politics and approach to making decisions, approach to leadership is something that I emulate.”
Dennis said his appointment highlights the fact that one is never too young to lead. “But the more important message for young Tobagonians is that they should always do their best and be good to all manner of man because they never know who might be in a position to appraise them and make decisions that might be critical to their future.
“That kind of attitude and mindset has contributed significantly to where I am today because had I treated my colleagues or anybody differently, they may not have been supportive of me becoming Chief Secretary at this point in time and at age 33.”
Since being sworn-in, Dennis said he has been meeting with the various secretaries to get apprised of issues within the respective divisions.
Discussions, he said, have centred around policy issues, challenges and possible solutions.
“Those discussions will assist in the planning going forward, particularly next week when they will align the various portfolios.”
Dennis, who assumed the portfolio in the midst of covid19, said the pandemic has forced the Assembly to review its agenda. He said members are expected to participate in a re-priorisation exercise next week to determine the way forward. “We will be doing a reality check of sorts where we will take the present circumstances into consideration, look at our development projects and make a serious determination as to what can be done, even what should be done at this point in time in terms of projects because covid19 has caused delays to some projects, some that were not able to start due to this situation.” Saying some projects will be shelved, Dennis said the funding will be utilised to meet the needs of Tobagonians.
However, Dennis acknowledged while the Government has implemented several initiatives to assist non-essential workers, not everyone will meet the criteria.
“And, therefore, that is where our programmes will have to fill those gaps. So, we will find the necessary funding through that reprioritisation exercise and we make those decisions going forward.”
AT A GLANCE
Served as Asst Secretary in the former Division of Community Development and Culture from 2013 to 2017
Served as Asst Secretary in the Office of the Chief Secretary from 2017 to April 2020.
Most recently served as Asst Secretary in the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development.
Served as THA Deputy Presiding Officer
Holds a Masters of Science degree in Public Policy and Management from University of London
Enjoys fishing, spear fishing, snorkelling, hunting
Plays semi-professional cricket in the Tobago Cricket Association League.
Is a nature enthusiast