WHAT is the financial status of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)?
Minority Leader Kelvon Morris asked Chief Secretary Farley Augustine on Tuesday amid complaints from Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) workers and other THA employees about frequent delays in the payment of wages.
Speaking on the Tobago Updates morning show, Morris said he has received many calls from daily-paid workers claiming they are not being paid on time.
“Almost every day I get a text message: URP did not get pay, daily-paid workers did not get paid. In some instances, even monthly-paid people aren’t being paid on time.
“So you have to ask yourself the question: what is the financial status of the THA at this time? What is causing this consistent late payment?”
Morris said some workers have also complained about bounced cheques.
“The chief secretary, as the secretary of finance, has an obligation to confirm or deny whether there is some kind of financial challenge, which there ought not to be because we are at the beginning of the financial year and they are not getting their allocation quarterly.
“So he needs to tell us what is this thing that is happening behind the scenes that is causing people to be paid late.”
Morris said he learnt that URP workers were supposed to have been paid on Monday.
“And they are going on two fortnights without being paid. That is $1,500 that they have to defer for two fortnights.
“Imagine having to live on $1,500 per fortnight. That is $3,000 a month. And you are going with that now for an entire month, and these people have their families. So it is really tough. These people are feeling the pain.”
He also dismissed as “hogwash” the view that there are administrative challenges within the system.
Morris claimed the administration has the support of public servants.
“But it seems that it is only when it is convenient that the public servants are being thrown under the bus, when this administration is struggling to deliver, then they blame the public servants.
“These are the very said public servants that this very said secretary was able to get a letter of award in 24 hours.”
He was referring to the THA’s recent award of a contract to a Trinidad company, California Stucco Ltd, to construct the Smithsfield-Dutchfort Connector Roads in Scarborough.
Morris said, “So if you can get the public servants to perform so well that a contractor could send in a bill one day and by the next day they were able to get a letter of award, why can’t our URP workers get paid when you know they have not been paid.
"Why can’t you ensure within 24 hours the same way that they are paid.”
He said it is a matter of prioritisation.
“Clearly, the payment of money to our lowest-paid workers aren’t a priority to this administration. Payment to our contractors is not a priority. Payment to our suppliers is not a priority.”
Morris described the issue as “a vexing one.
“Because it goes to the heart and soul of Tobagonians, the bread-and-butter issues. This is about people being able to feed their families.”