As the battle for power and control of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) intensifies ahead of the December 6 THA election, PNM Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy Farley Augustine have accused each other of being power-hungry.
Davidson-Celestine on Monday called on Tobagonians to hold Augustine accountable for his political leader's actions.
She was speaking on Monday on TV6 Morning Edition programme, where she said Augustine's lust for power had blinded him to Watson Duke's mismanagement of the Public Services Association (PSA).
Referencing a leaked report of a PSA audit which detailed overspending that exceeded the PSA’s income by $6.3 million in the last four years, questionable procurement practices and a high frequency of reimbursements to Duke, among other discrepancies, Davidson-Celestine said, "When I look at the audit and when I look at what has been said in the past, my concern is the deputy political leader who purports to be a good man.
"In my estimation and I'm sure in estimation of the minds of people of Tobago, the deputy leader must be held accountable for Watson's behaviour. Because he has been on the platform indicating that PSA's business is PSA's business."
Davidson-Celestine also noted Duke's statements that part of his $521,695 PSA pension, paid to him prior to reneging on his promise to resign, had funded a previous PDP election campaign.
"It is not enough for Farley to say PSA business is business," Davidson-Celestine said.
She also questioned how stringent the PDP's independent screening process was, given that Duke' nomination has been approved on a number of occasions.
"We really have to question Farley's judgment at this point in time."
The Secretary of Health also scoffed at a social contract signed by the PDP candidates which empowers Augustine to discipline any candidate breaching standards of fairness, accountability and transparency.
"Will your boss empower you to fire him?" Davidson-Celestine asked rhetorically,
"When you look at the PSA audit, there are questions you must ask.
"The upholder is greater than the thief – how is it Farley has not read the auditor general findings and has found nothing wrong with the actions of his political leader?"
"If it were us in the PNM, we would have been called to account. I am calling on Tobagonians to call on Farley to account for why he continues to hug up his political leader in the face of all that has been said within the PSA."
Augustine: Pot calling kettle black
Asked to respond to the PNM leader, Augustine told Newsday, "there is a colloquial expression that goes: pot telling kettle dat it bottom black. This is the most fitting expression for the kind of hypocrisy that is steaming from Tracy these days."
Augustine recalled Davidson-Celestine, upon being elected PNM Tobago Council leader in January 2020, "hounding (former chief secretary) Kelvin Charles out of office, despite the fact that she had no legal grounds on which she could replace him herself."
He also noted in the failed negotiation attempts at a power-sharing arrangement between the PDP and PNM, his party had "offered her the position of Chief Secretary in an attempt to create a government of unity for the people of Tobago.
"Additionally, if I was so hungry for power, I wouldn’t have opened my arms, threw away ambition..."
He added that the PDP had offered the PNM the majority of the numbers of the Executive Council and the choice of THA Presiding Officer.
"She refused all of that, because she doesn’t care about Tobago. She has a selfish desire to hold Tobago captive for herself and the contractual oligarchy that sponsors her machinations"
Asked if he has the fortitude to hold his leader to the benchmark written in the social contract, Augustine said he has told Duke to his face that he will be sanctioned is he breaches it.
"I have no reason to be fearful of Mr Duke. In fact, I have publicly criticised Mr Duke’s behaviour in the past (as I did last year when he referred to the young ladies as ‘stink and dutty’) and I am still here leading the PDP for the THA election with his blessings.
"This tells you a lot about Mr Duke."
Addressing the contents of the PSA audit, Augustine said, "I don’t know much about PSA’s business.
"It is far less a concern for me than THA’s business that belongs to all ah we. From what I have seen in the newspapers is that an audit report from last year, reveals that Duke for over four years prior overspent on their budget by $6.3 million. Overspending in accounting in and of itself is not an unethical or illegal act and isn’t grounds for dismissing anyone."
Augustine said he's sticking to his statement made on March 27 in Parlatuvier, that if Duke is guilty of any wrongdoing, "Let the police do its work and let the chips fall where they may."
Augustine said his main concern is "actual evidence of wrongdoing" within the THA noted by the Auditor General's office.
Davidson-Celestine has said she has started legal action against Augustine for defamation of character.