A POLITICAL party is not a government.
A political party, despite its outward orientation, is a private group of individuals.
A government is a creature of a constitution, imbued with power and authority for the purpose of serving the interests of an entire nation, not just one group.
Of course, that is the theory. In practice, the lines are blurred, often to the detriment of good governance.
For instance, governments are regularly accused of using state resources – such as broadcasting facilities, public projects and insider information – for private political gain. The refrain “This is PNM country” raises eyebrows because of the way it collapses the difference between party and state.
The bacchanal involving the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is an untimely reminder of the need for a clear separation between the two.
Up to a certain point, the spat between Watson Duke and Farley Augustine has been refreshing. In a country in which open challenges to political leaders are not encouraged, if not downright discouraged, it is clear the PDP has no such problem.
Mr Duke, hitherto a deputy chief secretary, has criticised Mr Augustine, the Chief Secretary. Mr Augustine, hitherto a deputy PDP political leader, has criticised Mr Duke, the PDP political leader.
Refreshing, yes, but up to a certain point.
The open animosity has engendered a sense of bad blood between the pair, has distracted from vital issues of governance, and has raised the prospect of crippling uncertainty, instability and constitutional problems down the road.
No one can take comfort in the Pandora’s Box now opened by the way both men have mixed up their roles in addressing their differences.
The trigger of this dispute was a matter of governance relating to Tobago’s international promotion and the efficacy of its administration.
The fuel that has been thrown on the fire, however, is purely the political party positions of both individuals, who exist within parallel hierarchical relationships now being dramatically put to the test.
Mr Augustine has duties to his party, but a chief secretary has wider duties to the island of Tobago and, indeed, also to Trinidad. Mr Duke has duties to Tobago too, stemming from his portfolio.
Neither should allow partisan political considerations to derail their responsibilities.
The THA Act, embarrassing gaps in which were only recently filled to pave the way for the very election that brought the PDP to power, never envisioned the current scenario. While it contains provisions allowing a motion of confidence against Mr Augustine, it is silent on much else.
As seen recently in the UK's switching of its prime minister, political parties too often have an outsized impact on national affairs.
The PDP and all politicians must resist the temptation to settle personal scores using official offices.