When silence is not golden

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine -
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine -

IN THE WAKE of the emergence of an audio clip purporting to incriminate Tobago House of Assembly (THA) officials in a plan to use public funds to further private political interests, members of the administration of Chief Secretary Farley Augustine have, unsatisfactorily, remained silent.

When public officials say nothing, there is sometimes a good reason. A matter may be before the court. It may be unwise to say anything that could risk influencing the outcome.

Or it may be subject to an ongoing investigation, facts may still be unconfirmed, the authenticity of materials still questionable. It may be premature to speak.

But very often the public fears politicians are simply stonewalling, stalling in the hope the passage of time will make the issue disappear.

The normally loquacious chief secretary has not exactly rushed to distance his administration from the clip which emerged more than a week ago.

In stark contrast, political opponents, political analysts and others have wasted little time in raising their voices to call on him to speak to the issue.

The chief secretary should not rush to speak.

But equally, no politician should ever miss any opportunity to distance their administration from graft. That Mr Augustine has been slow to do so has exposed his party to more allegations at a time when it is under increased scrutiny.

This month, Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe questioned what the THA will do with the additional $100 million approved in the recent mid-year review. That supplemental appropriation, which will presumably be spread across THA divisions, would normally be regarded as part of ordinary budget processes. In the current environment, however, it has become a matter for chest thumping by the central government and may yet become a lightning rod for controversy.

The prime minister is on record as viewing Mr Augustine’s administration as lacking a clear mandate given the political party manoeuvres that have taken place involving it.

But pressure has also been heaped on Mr Augustine’s administration by a recent court ruling which has underlined flagrant breaches of the law.

On Friday, Justice Frank Seepersad stopped the THA from continuing work on the Shirvan/Store Bay Local connector road. The granting of the ex-parte injunction came pursuant to an action from the Environmental Management Authority which had complained in an emergency application that the requisite approvals had not been granted.

Such developments came after the THA’s well-publicised construction of a stage in the sea along Milford Road, Scarborough, for which officials expressed open contempt for approvals processes.

Sadly, the use of public resources for private gain is not new in our political landscape. That is precisely why Mr Augustine needs to address this issue if he hopes to distinguish himself from his counterparts and to restore lost faith in his administration’s ways.


"When silence is not golden"

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