People’s National Movement (PNM) Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine says several Tobagonians have raised concerns over the conditions of the Progressive Democratic Patriots’ (PDP) power-sharing proposal to manage the Tobago House of Assembly. In particular, they fear the prospect of Watson Duke becoming Finance Secretary.
However, in an immediate response to the concern, Duke says he is not interested in the role in the power-sharing arrangement.
Davidson-Celestine addressed the issue after a walkthrough at the site of the Bacolet Indoor Sporting Facility yesterday, where she confirmed that the PDP’s formal proposal was received and the PNM executive will meet for discussions on the matter on Monday.
The PDP offered the power-sharing proposal during a meeting involving all twelve Assemblymen and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley earlier this week.
Called the “One Tobago United” Executive Council, the proposal allows for the PNM to appoint the Chief Secretary and Presiding Officer and one of the three councillors allocated on the executive. The PDP, meanwhile, is seeking to fill the Deputy Chief Secretary, Secretary of Finance and two councillor positions, with the remaining secretarial positions to be equally divided between the parties.
However, Davidson-Celestine yesterday confirmed she had received concerns centred around the role of PDP leader Watson Duke in the arrangement.
“Most persons that have contacted me have said that we would not want to be interested in the Secretary of Finance position going to the PDP, especially if the Secretary would be Watson Duke and that has been the concern raised by members of the public at this point in time,” Davidson-Celestine said.
Davidson-Celestine was evasive when asked to express how she felt personally about the proposal, opting instead to address suitability.
“It is reasonable that they have come to discuss some sort of an arrangement but I am not ready to go into if they should get Secretary of Finance. For me, it is about placing people where they would be able to perform the role and ensure that we manage our resources, limited or otherwise, in the interest of the people of Tobago.”
Duke responded to the concern raised by Davidson Celestine on social media yesterday. Claiming he had no interest in the Finance position, Duke said the concerns and fears expressed are from “the head of Tracy Davidson-Celestine.”
“I have no interest in becoming the Secretary of Finance nor an Assistant Secretary of Finance. My interest is serving the people of Tobago and being a part of the team that will preside over ushering in of Tobago’s autonomy,” Duke said.
PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine also addressed the issue on his social media page by asking for open deliberations.
“At no point has the PDP offered Mr Duke as Secretary for Finance, nor does it intend to make such an offer. Allow the PNM to provide a response (counter-proposal) before making assumptions. Stop trying to muddy the waters,” Augustine said.
Duke also used the forum to respond to prominent Tobago attorney Martin George, who publicly stated that the PDP’s power-sharing proposal is illegal, as the THA Act does not provide for any such arrangement. George also described the proposal as “altruistic and naive,” as local politics is “combative and oppositional” in nature, adding, “Any attempt to force the backyard marriage will not only be illegal but will also end in disaster.”
George cautioned the PDP against being “suckered” into an illegal arrangement with the Government that can be challenged by any citizen, especially since the Government had already amended to Constitution to increase the number of electoral districts on the island from 12 to 15.
In his response to George, Duke said the proposal is not illegal and accused the attorney of providing the PNM with a means of escaping the proposal.
“Martin George cannot show where in the Tobago House of Assembly Act that working together is illegal. He should seriously consider whether he wants to be a lawyer or political commentator, such comments speak directly to a particular group of people who are looking for a way to wiggle out.”
Duke said George should observe the law instead of trying advance his own base desires which do not coincide with the Tobago House of Assembly Act.