People’s National Movement Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine is refusing to take any blame for the Tobago House of Assembly’s Tourism Division spending $2.5 million on a failed zipline project for Main Ridge, saying her role then as secretary was to set policy and ensure public servants got money for projects they were pursuing.
In fact, Davidson-Celestine put the blame for the project’s failure squarely on public servants’ shoulders, as she defended herself in the face of criticism after an Auditor General department report revealed the only thing the THA actually got for the expenditure was some rope.
Speaking on Wednesday night at a campaign meeting in Canaan, Davidson-Celestine, who was secretary of tourism when the High Angle Canopy Course project was launched in 2015, said she was not at fault.
“As I know it, a secretary’s role and responsibility is that of policy formulation and it is through the process there will be policy and programmes and we find when the members of staff would come with programmes and proposals, we will go through the process to ensure that the funding is available for the member of staff to implement the project at the end of the day,” David-Celestine told supporters.
The woman who is seeking to become the THA’s fist female Chief Secretary, made it clear it was the failure of public servants that caused the Auditor General’s Department to red flag the zipline issue.
She said, “All they are doing is calling national attention, calling international attention to the fact that public servants do not yet know how to document their work properly. But more than that, they are behaving as though our public servants in the THA are the worst in T&T and the worst in the rest of the Caribbean.”
On November 12 last year, the Auditor General’s Department wrote a letter to the THA’s Chief Administrator on the findings of the audit. That letter was signed by acting Audit Director Alicia Bailey-Job.
On page 15 of the letter, the issues surrounding the proposed course at the Main Ridge in Tobago were highlighted.
“A service agreement dated 12 June 2015 showed that the Division of Tourism and Transportation contracted with a British Virgin Island corporation located at Tortola to design, develop and construct a “High Angle” Canopy Tour Course in the Main Ridge at an initial cost of US$ 531,610,” the letter stated.
The Auditor General noted, however, that no approval was presented from the THA’s Executive Council for the establishment of the facility.
A total of $2,511,210.20 was paid to the THA for “materials and equipment; however the existence of these assets was not verified,” the Auditor General’s report stated.
“A visit to the Stores section of the Division revealed only some ropes on hand,” the Auditor General said.
On June 23, 2015, the THA paid $1,765,469.10 for “70 per cent of materials and equipment for Canopy project” and just over four months later, on October 27, 2015, a further $745,741.10 was paid for the remaining 30 per cent of materials and equipment for the project, the Auditor General’s letter added.
The issue has been raised on the campaign platform by PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine, who has called on Davidson-Celestine to step down if she cannot produce the missing funds to Tobagonians.
On Wednesday night, Davidson-Celestine accused the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of trying to do to her what politicians were not prepared to do to one another in Trinidad and to blame her for a project’s failure.
“But when you look and assess the situation in the context of Tobago and in the context of Trinidad and Tobago, it is only in Tobago that the opposition tries to take these reports and link any politician and member of staff to any untoward processes in a division,” Davidson-Celestine said.
“I have read audited reports from ministries in Trinidad, no politician was blamed for it, no member of staff in any division was blamed for it … all they acknowledge was within the functions of government there are systematic challenges at the end of the day and in order to progress and to move forward, we have to ensure we are able to address those systematic reports.”
She rubbished concerns about the report, saying the Auditor General had simply sent a management letter, which is a document written to a member of staff in a particular division indicating that through the auditing process, they did not receive some information and in order to make a reasonable conclusion about the state of affairs of the division, they need additional information.
“What the management letter is saying to staff is that we came, we saw and we need additional information in order to come to a conclusion about the operation of the respective divisions or the Tobago House of Assembly. A management letter is not a final report,” she thundered.
Davidson-Celestine added: “It does not indicate there is anything untoward in terms of any political wrongdoing. Therefore, any attempt to make any judgement and ascribe anything untoward to any individual at this point in time is disingenuous ladies and gentlemen.”
She accused the PDP of attempting to embarrass public servants and encouraged them to ‘rise up and put this behaviour once and for all with a vote on January 25th.
January 25 is election day for a new Assembly in Tobago.