What will the Farley Augustine-led Tobago House of Assembly (THA) do with the additional $100 million it has received from central government in its mid-year budget review?
Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe asked this question on Friday as she expressed grave concerns about the release of an audio clip in which two THA officials allegedly discussed using public funds to hire people to carry out propaganda on social media.
The clip began circulating on Tuesday but Augustine has not yet responded to it.
At a news conference at the PNM Tobago Council’s Scarborough headquarters, Cudjoe feared the additional funding allocated to the island could be corruptly utilised.
In the 2022-2023 budget last October, Tobago received $2.5 billion.
“Even as I stand here as a member of the Cabinet, which took the decision to allocate an additional $100 million to the Tobago House of Assembly in supplemental funding in our recently debated and passed mid-year supplication, the allocation for the budget where we increased the amount of monies going to different ministries, an allocation $100 million was allocated to the Tobago House of Assembly, no reporter eh report that. I haven’t heard the chief secretary speak about that yet. I have not heard anybody in the assembly speak about that yet.
“But what we have to keep our eyes on, ‘What are they going to do with that $100 million and what have they done with the monies that they received for first quarter, second quarter, now we in third quarter. Where did that money go?”
Insisting that Tobago deserved to hear from the officials who spoke in the audio clip, Cudjoe claimed its content was “not a slip of the tongue.
“This was a meeting called or a deliberate plot against, not for the development but against Tobago’s development – people who are charged with the responsibility by the people who the Tobago electorate came out and voted for resoundingly because they promised that they would do things differently. They promised they would fix things.”
She accused the THA of standing in the way of Tobago’s development.
“One of the beautiful things about the THA and the funds that they receive, they are allowed to change the direction of the allocation so they could move monies from one vote to another vote based on your priorities as a Tobago House of Assembly. You don’t have to ask permission from the Minister of Finance or ask permission from anybody.
“So how the Tobago House of Assembly uses its money allocated by central government is based on what they see as priority. And what this voice recording has told us is rather than place priority on developing Tobagonians, this current regime has chosen to utilise public funds to run their party campaign.”
Cudjoe, who is also the Minister of Sport and Community Development, said the PNM has always been about advancing all of Tobago, not just its party supporters.
“We are supposed to give confidence and hope to the young Tobagonians who are now going off to UWI looking to come back to contribute to the development of Tobago, hoping to get a decent job somewhere based on their experience, their knowledge, their qualifications, not based on their ability to spread propaganda in favour of the Tobago People Party, the jellyfish gang of whatever they want to call themselves.”
She said the contents of the audio clip does not give hope to the island’s youngsters, contractors and budding entrepreneurs.