TOBAGO House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has made good on his threat to sue Progressive Democratic Patriots leader Watson Duke.
He has also called on Duke to “calm down,” “rethink his position,” and not allow himself to be “undone by superficial emotions.”
Augustine was at loggerheads with the former THA deputy chief secretary over the funding for the Roxborough Folk Performers in New York. Duke removed Augustine as a PDP deputy political leader, and later resigned as deputy chief secretary.
On Friday, attorneys for the Chief Secretary, led by King’s Counsel Anand Beharrylal, wrote to Duke to inform him of Augustine’s intended legal action for defamation for “false and malicious” statements at a PDP press conference in Trinidad on September 15.
Attorney Kiel Taklalsingh called on Duke to issue a full and unequivocal retraction of the statements, in writing, in each of the three daily newspapers. He said Augustine also wanted an apology – in person – at a press conference, and in writing, to be posted on Duke’s Facebook page.
He gave Duke 14 days to remove the offending video from the social media platform and not repeat any of the statements as well as make an offer for monetary compensation for the injury to Augustine’s reputation and feelings.
In the letter, Takalsingh said he was instructed to remind the PDP leader that he committed himself to a life of public service.
He said at one time the two men shared the same “progressive views” to improve the lives of the people of Tobago.
Taklalsingh said that can only be successfully achieved if Duke and Augustine remained brothers “in a common cause” and if “governance is by consent and consensus and not the singular view of a supreme leader of a party.”
In directly addressing the alleged defamatory statements, Taklalsingh said the allegations were calculated to disparage Augustine and imputed he committed crimes. He said his client vehemently denied all allegations.
“...Serious harm to our client’s reputation has been, must have been and was likely to be caused by your defamatory statement and my client has been the recipient of abuse and ridicule due to the statement you made,” Duke was told.
Taklalsingh said since the PDP leader has indicated he intended to persist with his statements, and if it continues, then Augustine will go to court for an injunction.
“Of course, if you have any credible, factual and truthful evidence to support the defamatory statements you have made then you ought to identify and present that evidence in response to this letter; and you are warned that fabricated evidence does not constitute credible evidence, the presentation of which could constitute in and of itself a criminal offence.”
The attorney said Duke’s press conference was reported in the media and allegations of corruption made there triggered further publicity from others, including political personalities.
“Your statement was falsely and maliciously published and was calculated to damage and defame our client in his personal capacity, professional capacity and as Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly,” Taklalsingh said.
Taklalsingh told Duke that while the chief secretary was mindful of the cut and thrust of the political gayelle in Trinidad and Tobago, where tempers often flared and things are said which are later regretted, that did not give him the licence to make spurious allegations to gain quick political points.
“For the avoidance of doubt, our client refutes entirely any suggestion of impropriety as has been alleged against him by you and would remind you that he has the right to preserve his good name, character and reputation, which he has worked long and hard to establish in the service of the people of Tobago.”
The 16-page pre-action protocol letter provided a transcript of the claims made by Duke and highlighted the defamatory aspects of each of them. In all, there are ten statements complained of by Augustine.
On the issue of funding of the Roxborough group, Taklalsingh said while there was nothing preventing any private organisation from travelling to a foreign country to showcase Tobago’s culture, it did not “automatically justify the payment of money, on-demand, from public funds.”
“Again, proper procedures must be followed to determine whether monies could be paid for what is essentially a private venture and if so, how much should be paid.
“As such, any issue you have raised in relation to paying money to the Roxborough Folk Performers Company should be seen in the context of transparency, accountability and following proper procedures in relation to the disbursement of public funds.”
Taklalsingh said Augustine remained resolute that proper procedures must be followed in the public’s interest.
He also told Duke, “Whilst our client recognises that you are no stranger to the criminal courts, I am instructed to urge you to consider with great care what you may say about our client in the future and to demonstrate a better sense of accuracy and restraint in any statement you may choose to make.”
He said Augustine remained a “loyal member” of the PDP and the THA and did “not wish to engage in meaningless and petty political squabbles with anyone,” including Duke, to distract from the “important progressive work” that has started in the interest of the people of Tobago.”
Also representing Augustine are attorneys Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan.