CHIEF SECRETARY Farley Augustine began the New Year consulting with three of his predecessors on important matters involving the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). The meeting took place on Saturday at Augustine's office, Division of Finance and the Economy, Scarborough.
Augustine said invitations were extended to all his predecessors, but only Kelvin Charles (PNM, 2017-2020), Hochoy Charles (NAR, 1996-2001) and ex-THA chairman Dr Jefferson Davidson (NAR, 1988-1992) attended. Augustine told Newsday Orville London said he wanted to remain out of public life, while Ancil Dennis said he was unavailable owing to a prior engagement.
Augustine said one of the aims of the meeting was to create greater harmony among political parties for the betterment of the island. Augustine's Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) won the December 6 THA election 14-1 over the PNM.
Among the issues addressed were "the issue of self-government, the push for greater autonomy, and some strategies we can employ to get central government to agree."
The Tobago Self Government Bill is currently at the committee stage in Parliament after the debate ended in June 2021 with no vote being taken. The Opposition walked out of Parliament after the Prime Minister's speaking time was extended.
The PDP and One Tobago Voice have been critical of the bill arguing that it does not reflect the wishes of Tobagonians.
Augustine said he has set up a direct line for the former chief secretaries.
"They can get me practically at any time. I also gave them an undertaking that they can advise me at any time on anything. I got a commitment that if I call them seeking advice they will oblige."
Augustine said Tobago can learn from the US political system where former presidents are given intelligence briefings and outgoing presidents greet their successor at inauguration.
"I really want us to change the political culture in Tobago...
"I felt a need to develop a similar political culture to show a sense of camaraderie, transition and continuity. Although we are from different political parties there are some policies that need to be continued. We do not always have to be in an acrimonious state."
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Kelvin Charles described the meeting as "a breath of fresh air."
Kelvin resigned as chief secretary in 2020 after PNM Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine defeated him in the party's internal elections.
Kelvin described Saturday's initiative as "a meeting of the minds, all minds, with the recognition that everyone has a contribution to make."
He added, "Such an honour. We all stood tall together!
"I have a renewed sense of hope as a New Year dawns. After the chaos that characterized 2020 and 2021, may your New Year be filled with cool, calm, collected moments, full of sharing and caring."
In an interview with Newsday on Sunday, Hochoy Charles said the meeting was something he has always advocated for.
He recalled meeting with London and discussing Tobago autonomy after the PNM had swept the THA elections 12-0.
"I am prepared to work with these people – work with them for free to make sure the government can succeed. Whenever there is government in office, every citizen must make sure that government can succeed."
Hochoy said adversarial politics benefits no one.
He recalled former prime minister ANR Robinson describing it as "a waste of resources."
He said an administration that starts afresh and does not tap into the knowledge of its predecessors is asking to fail.
"That is the disaster in this country."
Hochoy said the THA Act does not recognise party and speaks to governance."When you all were talking about (election) tie, you were talking out of ignorance...There is no tie. The THA does not recognise party after election. We don't have an opposition in THA, only a minority."