Legal threat to stop election of THA deputy chief

Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. -
Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. -

Scarborough resident Krystal Fordyce has threatened to file an injunction to stop Monday's election of a new Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deputy chief secretary, arguing that Watson Duke's resignation was not valid.

On Thursday, Duke sent a letter to Chief Secretary Farley Augustine announcing his resignation, with immediate effect.

The Office of the Chief Secretary, in a press release on Saturday, said it has received Watson Duke's resignation letter and it was forwarded to the offices of the President and Presiding Officer for appropriate action. Duke was thanked for his nine months of service as deputy chief secretary. He remains electoral representative for Roxborough/Argyle.

The Office of the Chief Secretary said the election of a new deputy, scheduled for 10.30 am, is in accordance with Act 40 of 1996 Section 8 of the THA Act which says "the assemblymen shall elect from among their number, the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary in accordance with section 11 and following such election, the President shall administer to the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary respectively, the oath of office set out in the Third Schedule."

But on Sunday, attorney Vishaal Siewsaran of Freedom Law Chambers, representing Fordyce, said the firm "has been instructed to file an application for an administrative order in accordance with Part 56 of the Civil Proceedings Rules of Court to seek a declaration that on a correct interpretation of the law, Duke's purported resignation is invalid."

A pre-action protocol letter to THA presiding officer Abby Taylor, the Office of the President and the Attorney General, called on the offices to give an undertaking by midnight on Sunday that Monday's election of a new deputy chief would not proceed.

"In order to tender a lawful resignation, Mr Duke must, of his own volition, tender his personal letter of resignation to the Presiding Officer of the Assembly and the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago," Siewsaran wrote.

Siewsaran added that Section 142 of the Constitution governs the question of resignation and says: (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, any person who is appointed or elected to or otherwise selected for any office established by this Constitution, including the office of Prime Minister or other Minister, or Parliamentary Secretary, may resign from that office by writing under his hand addressed to the person or authority by whom he was appointed, elected or selected.

(2) The resignation of any person from any such office shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the person or authority to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that person or authority to receive it.

"In the circumstances, it is abundantly clear that the purported resignation of Mr Watson Duke as Deputy Chief Secretary is invalid and ineffective in law. There being no vacancy, it will be illegal and unconstitutional for the THA to elect a new Deputy Chief Secretary."

Contacted on Sunday, Taylor told Newsday she was not aware of the letter and declined comment until she was apprised of the matter. Efforts to contact Duke for a comment on Sunday were unsuccessful as he did not reply to a call or WhatsApp message.

Duke and Augustine had engaged in a public spat over the funding to the Roxborough Folk Performers for a trip to New York. Duke had argued that $400,000 from the THA for airfare was insufficient and the group was left stranded, hungry and sleeping on the streets in New York.

Augustine had reprimanded Duke, his Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader, for his public criticism of the THA and disputed his version of what transpired. He had promised to review Duke's portfolio as deputy chief.

Duke responded by stripping Augustine, Faith BYisrael and Alicia Roberts-Patterson of their PDP deputy positions.

He later declared that the PDP was his own.

"When Watson Duke moves away, he carries the PDP with him. Wherever I am, there is the PDP. It is owned by me. There was no group when I started under a street light."


"Legal threat to stop election of THA deputy chief"

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