Dr Faith BYisrael finds niche in politics

Dr Faith BYisrael says her biggest campaign challenge was the fact that she is an introvert. -
Dr Faith BYisrael says her biggest campaign challenge was the fact that she is an introvert. -

DR FAITH BYISRAEL may not have set out to become a politician but she has embraced the role wholeheartedly.

“I enjoy it 98 per cent of the time. But some days, I am at two per cent because there are just some days that are unnecessarily difficult,” she told WMN.

“I always say if I win the lottery I would still do this. It will probably mean I would do this a little better because I would not have to worry about my own bills. But I would still do exactly this because I think this is where I am called to be at this point.”

A qualified public health practitioner, BYisrael holds several positions within Tobago’s political landscape.

Apart from being the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA’s) Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary for Health, Wellness and Social Protection, she is also the electoral representative for Belle Garden/Glamorgan and a member of the fledgling Tobago People’s Party (TPP).

She admits, though, that politics and all it entails – speaking engagements, frequent interactions with residents and working odd hours – took some getting used to.

“I am an introvert. It’s kind of hard for people to believe that as much as I talk, but I am an introvert. You have to know me. My very small circle knows me. My very small circle also knows that there are moments where you literally just have to leave her alone and let her be.”

An ideal moment for BYisrael involves being in her own space on a couch, eating, sleeping and watching TV.

“That is a perfect Saturday for me, with no interaction. And then I can replenish to go back out.”

Saying she’s always been a loner, BYisrael laughed as she recalled her experiences when she first contested the THA election in 2017 on a Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) ticket.

“The biggest campaign against me was that Faith doh talk to people in the village. That was the mantra, ‘How yuh go vote for Faith?' And it is because I really am an introvert. I was raised as my mother’s only child – home all the time in my own space, in my own room. That’s just me. So that might be the most difficult part of doing this job, when I have to be out there.”

Having won the Belle Garden/Glamorgan district in the December 2021 THA election after a narrow defeat in the 2017 election, BYisrael believes she is performing creditably as a representative.

She said her biggest challenge continues to be the infrastructural needs of the area.

“A lot of people need assistance with drainage and walls. Those things are harder to provide when you consider the budget for the infrastructure division and all of the other big things that we have to do. If you ask any other assemblyman they would say exactly the same thing.”

While there will always be those who feel that their representatives can do more, BYisrael believes she has done a good job internalising the needs of the district and communicating with the residents.

Her field and office staff, she said, are her eyes and ears on the ground.

“They are the ones sending the messages. If there is a situation where a resident needs to see me then they are the ones that will arrange and then we can do the general walk around in the area.

“Because they do such a good job, I say to the villagers, ‘When you see this person, it is equivalent to seeing me, so provide the information to them. You know it’s going to come back to me. You know we are going to work on it.'”

But striking a balance with her work as secretary, area representative, TPP member and her personal life remains a work in progress, she said.

Dr Faith BYisrael says she answered the political call to service for Tobago eight years ago. -

“It is an active process.”

BYisrael said while her job as health secretary is critically important for the well-being of Tobago as a whole, she is equally mindful of her responsibility to the people who voted her into office.

“There are days that I just go through my files (at the division) and if there isn’t anything critical – someone going to die or people not getting paid – I say, ‘Hell with it.’

“I go home and I have very young people in the district working with me. I call one of them and I say, let’s hit a George Street. I try to do that very frequently.”

Observing that people want representatives they can see and relate to, BYisrael said she also tries her best to be involved in group activities within the village.

“Actively supporting the different groups whenever they do things is also a way of being present outside of actually going by someone’s individual home.”

BYisrael answered the call to service eight years ago as a member of the PDP. She lost the seat by only six votes in the 2017 THA election and was made a Minority councillor in the then PNM-led THA.

During that time, she was vocal on issues plaguing the health sector, including the PNM’s handling of the covid19 pandemic on the island.

BYisrael was a member of the PDP team, which secured an overwhelming 14-1 victory over the PNM in the December 6, 2021 THA election.

But the party, which was on a high after breaking the PNM’s 20-year reign in the THA, encountered a major hitch in August 2022 when Duke accused the Augustine-led THA of “abandoning” members of a Roxborough group, which had gone to New York to perform at a cultural event.

The public feud between Duke and Augustine threw the party into upheaval.

Duke resigned as deputy chief secretary and later fired Augustine, BYisrael and Alicia Patterson as deputy PDP leaders. Augustine and all of the PDP’s executive members also resigned from the party and declared themselves independents in the assembly.

Several months later, talk began circulating that a break-away faction of the PDP was on the horizon. And on August 13, 2023, the TPP was launch formally in Scarborough with Augustine as its interim political leader.

BYisrael told WMN the experience forced the former PDP members to think about politics and political parties differently “because we were all essentially newbies at the time.”

She said unlike the PDP, the TPP is not governed by an individual.

“The PDP was an organisation that was registered, created by a single human being, which is one of the reasons why he (Duke) had the authority to do what he did.

“He says it very proudly and boldly, founder and owner. Founder is one thing but owner gives a very different kind of connotation.”

Coming out of that experience, BYisrael said, TPP members and supporters insisted that any new political organisation “should never allow any individual to be able to say founder and owner of the political entity, which is why we went the route that we did.”

From its first meeting in April 2023, she said, the supporters led the process. They initially came up with a list of about 15 names for the party until they settled on the TPP, its colour and symbol.

“Even the registration of it included three individuals – not Farley Augustine, not Faith, not any of the names who we knew from before or anything like that co-sign the letter saying we the people have come up with this entity known as the TPP.”

She said this was a major departure from what existed before.

“I think that in and of itself is a stark difference because we had insisted on the party developing from the ground up with people being at the centre of it and therefore it is not any one man or any one woman that owns or forms anything, and I think that will make a significant difference in how we move forward and function in everything that we do.”

BYisrael believes autonomy is the major issue confronting Tobago.

She said as health secretary she recently moved a motion in the Assembly Legislature about keeping Tobago clean which exemplified the need for greater autonomy.

“One of the things I highlighted then was the fact that in Trinidad, with the municipalities and boroughs, they could decide that they are charging a fee because of their ability to do regulations as it relates to public health, litter, garbage and people not doing what they should be doing. That is because it is built into the Municipalities Act in Trinidad to allow them to do that.”

She said this is not the case in Tobago.

“The THA Act does not allow us to do that. We don’t have the authority to make that kind of rule, to send it directly to the President so that this now becomes our law in Tobago for something as simple as cleaning the drains or cutting the yard. We don’t have the capacity to do that here with the limitations of the THA Act.

“Stuff like that allows us to recognise that everything we do is linked to that autonomy issue and we now have an opportunity, I think, to really treat with it.”

Despite all of the discussions that have taken place over the years, BYisrael believes autonomy means different things to different people.

Firstly, she believes the people who fought for it generations ago, “have been using different words and different things to mean to different things and that is confusing in and of itself.”

She also believes that those who do not want to grant autonomy “have been capitalising on the fact that we use the different words and different terms, pushing, ‘What do you all want? Is it this? Is it that?’ Throwing out these things and also confusing the masses by having that kind of conversation.”

BYisrael said the TPP plans to initiate discussions about the ‘autonomy’ bills (Tobago Self-Government Bill and the Tobago Island Administration Bill) which are expected to be debated during this parliamentary term, and what was sent during Orville London’s term as chief secretary.

“We are working with what Orville London sent as the baseline and then we are going to juxtapose them and come back to Tobagonians and say, ‘This is what was sent in 2016 and this is what was laid in 2021. Are you willing to compromise on these things, whatever you are calling it?’

“So we start the conversation from that point of view so that the entire island can say these are the things we want. Several years have passed so we may have a change of thought and ideas.”

BYisrael said as a THA they will then say, "'This is what Tobago collectively says, these are our non-negotiables, these are the things we can negotiate. This is the document that now represents what Tobago feels and this is what we would like you to go through the process with in Trinidad.'”

She said the plan is expected to be rolled out soon.


"Dr Faith BYisrael finds niche in politics"

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