VILLAGE councils in Tobago must not be an extension of political party groups, said Minority assemblyman Farley Augustine.
In his contribution to the $4.71 billion budget debate in the Assembly Legislature in Scarborough, Augustine said village councils must be held to a higher standards of integrity and accountability.
He said far too often, people see village councils as their personal property. “We have to hold village councils to account. We can’t have situations as is happening in several areas where a few people have a lasso around the neck of the whole village and don’t want to give up the people village council,” he said.
Augustine said tensions among members usually arise when dealing with village councils’ finances. “When you try to change bank accounts, you go to the bank and tell them yuh eh give up power yet and the bank can’t open a new account. The bank can’t transfer signatories because is all kinds of bacchanal and one side have to go for lawyer for the next side and all kinds of stories.”
He added: “I am talking it because I am talking meh own business too. That happens in Speyside where I live and that cannot be the ambition for village development. We have to have greater cohesion.” The Speyside/L’Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative said unity was once a common feature of villages in Tobago.
“Once upon a time, village councils meant something.” Augustine spoke about his discussions with Speyside centenarian Eric Davis, who was once the leader of the village council. He said Davis told him about the confrontations the village council had with an owner of the Bird of Paradise Inn in relation to a housing scheme that was later acquired by the State.
“He (Davis) would tell me stories of the village council getting up and breaking down the barbed wire fence that blocked off the beach all behind Gemma’s (restaurant) there. The village council did that so that the villagers could have access.”
The Progressive Democratic Patriots deputy political leader added: “He would tell me stories of the works department coming to the village council to make decisions about massive drainage in the area and the village council will be the ones to lead the team from works and show them the area. That is the job of the village council.”
Augustine recalled when the Speyside High School was being built, the then village council advised the planners on where it should be constructed.
He said the planners ignored the villagers’ advice. “The school has flooded several times. And that is what happens when we remove governance from the micro level and hoard governance at this place called the THA.”
Augustine said communities must be empowered. “So, we have to engage communities and rethink community development.”