MINORITY LEADER Watson Duke is hard at work trying to convince the people of Tobago to vote for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) in the upcoming general election.
Seeking to build relationships with voters and possibly sway their ballots, Duke is on a mission to complete all unfinished houses in Tobago by August.
Duke told Newsday, the community initiative began two weeks ago in Argyle, a small seaside village in his electoral district of Roxborough/Delaford.
He said 14 residents have requested assistance to repair their homes.
To date, the PDP leader has spent almost $75,000 so far.
Duke added the initiative will be extended across the island.
“We have started here and we are not moving helter skelter as if we are looking for votes,” he said outside of Pablo’s Supermarket, Argyle, last Friday.
“We want to do as much as we can here and then spread out.”
He added the project is in keeping with the PDP’s mandate to ensure there are no unfinished houses in Tobago within its first five years on the political landscape. The PDP was established ahead of the January 2017 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.
According to Duke, the initiative seeks to unite communities by practising lend hand.
“When slavery ended, ‘lend hand’ became a big thing and former slaves used to assist one another in working their garden. So, we are trying to bring back that lend hand thing because it is a covid19 period we are coming out of.”
Duke added, the rainy season also presents challenges for Tobagonians living in unfinished houses.
“There is that basic need of every human being to feel safe and secure in a house. So, we have reached out to people who have had their houses in a state of disrepair and we have said to them, 'We want to fix your house free to you.'”
The project’s scope of work includes repairs to leaking galvanised roofs, broken louvres, shoddy wooden staircases and the construction of proper bathroom and toilet facilities.
Duke said once he is approached by a resident who, for whatever reason, has been unable to complete their house, an assessment is undertaken for the work that is needed.
“We will then buy the materials and get guys from the district to do the project.
“It is a self-autonomous thing. They manage it. I just mobilise and motivate them. They are the ones who are in charge of this.”
However, Duke said, given the resources currently at their disposal, painting and other embellishments cannot be carried out.
“We can’t paint and all that but one could do the basics to make a person comfortable and safe for the rainy season.”
The PNM has repeatedly accused the PDP of being funded by the UNC, but Duke claimed the initiative is being funded from his own pocket. However, he said he is willing to accept help from benefactors.
“I am not a man of straw. I have been president of the PSA (Public Services Association) for the last ten years. I have a salary and the money is coming from that.”
He said some of the funding for the initiative also comes from the money he saved since entering politics.
“If, from the last election I knew that I had to compete again, anybody with sense would save money. The money I have saved up now, I recognised that now is the rainy season and so it is the right time to make the impact.”
Duke acknowledged the initiative is political but said anyone requiring repairs to their home, regardless of political affiliation, will be assisted.
“Politics is about people and anytime it drifts from the people to the party, that is when it is negative politics.
“So you could be doing the right things but for the wrong reason, because you are trying to put the party in focus more than the people.”
Duke said politics is always driven by those who are governed, “because they say what type of country they are looking for.
“I could not have engaged these guys if I did not reach out to them in a real and sincere way.”
Pleased with the success of the initiative, thus far, the PDP leader said community building is one of the party’s main focus.
“We have moved the macro-economics from the big countries to the micro issues, because too often Government is telling us the country is getting better and we not feeling it.”
He added: “Those are bogus theories they have been telling us and peddling for years. What the small man wants to hear is that the economy in their community is getting better.”
Kester “Rabbit” Jack, a self-professed Jack-of-all-trades, co-ordinates the Argyle initiative.
“I am multi-skilled,” he told Newsday Tobago.
“I have been placed on many projects where I had to learn many different skills.”
Jack said the project offers an avenue through which the youths in the area can be occupied.
“I am able to show the youths how to change a galvanise and put on a window. So, I feel we (Argyle) get a change for the better because they not on the block and their mindset will change.”
Worker Donald Edwards observed youth participation in the initiative is increasing daily.
“Them fellas anticipating it. It bringing a love in the village again. It was always there but Mr Duke bringing it back again.”
Edwards recalled the drowning of teenagers Kharisha Thompson, 15, and Chrislon Walters, 19, at the Argyle Waterfall on November 17, 2019, saying the community has started to heal and bond again.
“So, now we want to continue that love in the community with this project.”