‘Tobago being punished’:
Opposition Senator Shamfa Cudjoe during her contribution to yesterday’s debate in the Upper House of
Parliament at the International
Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
—Photos: ANISTO ALVES
Cudjoe delivers fiery contribution
by Ria Taitt Political Editor
By the time People’s National Movement (PNM) Senator Shamfa Cudjoe was finished with her budget contribution, she was dubbed the “Bethel badjohn” by Minister of State in the Ministry of the People and Social Development Vernella Alleyne-Toppin.
In a fiery budget contribution, Cudjoe accused the People’s Partnership Government of punishing Tobago for voting 12-0 against itself in the last THA election.
“This is a Tobago in time-out budget,” she declared.
She said this Government, which promised in the last Tobago House of Assembly campaign to give Tobago eight per cent of the national budget, had only provided the barest minimum of funding, as required by the Dispute Resolution Agreement—4.03 per cent of the national budget.
(The DRC ruling recommended Tobago receives between 4.03 and 6.9 per cent of the national budget.)
Cudjoe said Tobago was not prepared to “prostitute” itself for eight per cent, and that is why it had voted 12-0 against the PP.
“We make no apologies for protecting ourselves, our heritage and our dignity... And any administration, any party, any government—PNM, ILP, UNC—that treats us with disrespect, you are going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” she declared.
But she added: “Because of that strong moral compass and because of that position we have taken... I believe that the people of Tobago are being punished and the Tobago House of Assembly is being placed in time out.”
She said although the THA rolled out its plans for Tobago development over the next four to five years, there was a serious shortfall in the funds.
He said Tobago received $300 million for development and $2.1 billion for recurrent expenditure.
She read some of the Tobago allocations, which she deemed to be inadequate.
She said “not a red cent” was allocated for CEPEP in Tobago. The Caregivers programme (where young people would go to the home of the aged to assist them) received an allocation of $500,000; programme for adolescent mothers—$100,000; home improvement programme—zero; Charlotteville housing programme—$200,000; Signal Hill housing estate—$1 million; Aventure Housing project—$3 million.
“This Government cannot be serious. That is the kind of contempt it has for Tobagonians, for the development of human capital and for the welfare of the people of Tobago,” she said.
Cudjoe said Tobago requested $8 million for its scholarship programme, but got a meagre $1 million. As she read each allocation, her Opposition colleagues kept chanting: “Nah! Cyar believe that!”
Cudjoe said it was disheartening that Delmon Baker, who benefitted from a scholarship under the PNM THA, would sit quietly in a Cabinet while this was going on. “And he alone got $800,000 (in scholarship funding as a medical student),” Faris Al-Rawi chimed in.
For training programmes for agricultural development, zero was the allocation; agro-food processing—$200,000, she said, noting that these “ridiculous allocations” were not mentioned by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, who spoke just before her.
The allocation for venture capital in Tobago was $1 million, she said.
Noting that Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie boasted that the Government had given 53 grants to Trinidad business owners at $200,000 each (amounting to $10 million) during this fiscal year, she said the Tobago allocations would frustrate any business development or economic diversification in Tobago.
Furthermore, she said, while the DRC ratio relates specifically to the THA allocation, it was “pitiful and distasteful” that the Minister (of Finance) should have added all the spending which would be done by other ministries for Tobago (to the THA allocation) to boast that Tobago received 5.3 per cent of the national pie. “It was another attempt to fool and mamaguy the Tobago electorate,” she thundered.
But Cudjoe had one thing she wanted to commend Finance Minister Larry Howai for—his “leadership” and for having the Attorney General “back back” on the Milshirv lawsuit against the THA.
“Don’t mind that Mr Lionel Coker, former TOP chairman, is calling for your head for making that decision. I would stand up in your defence, for your wisdom and levelheadedness in letting the AG know to back off,” she said. She read the “kiss and make up” letter written by Howai to the THA Secretary, in which he stated he decided to approve the construction of the administrative office as well as the lease and mortgage to the THA and First Citizens under the BOLT arrangement entered into between the THA and Milshirv Properties Ltd and to approve the payment of the lease rents under the arrangement.
The correspondence also stated the legal proceedings against the THA would be “converted into a construction summons seeking the court’s interpretation as to the true extent of the THA’s powers”.
She said the Finance Minister, however, announced the Cove as a free zone area, but failed to allocate one cent to the Cove. “Free zone area, everybody jump and have a good time. Not a cent to the development of Cove!” she thundered.
Cudjoe had started off by saying she would be focusing on Tobago since there was no one else in the Senate to do so.
“They fired my dear friend, Christlyn Moore. She used to make some excellent contributions here in the Senate. She use to sit in the front row, rubbing nose and rubbing forehead with the Attorney General. But he didn’t speak up for her when they kicked her to the curb like the proverbial mangy dog.
So long. Farewell to her, I wish her the best,” Cudjoe said.