The buck stops with me, Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), said yesterday
Jack said that when anything goes wrong in his party with respect to the performance, mistakes or shortcomings of members—the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the leader. He was asked for his comments on changes announced last Friday by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the Cabinet reshuffle.
Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin was removed as Minister of Tobago Development and Tobago West MP Dr Delmond Baker was appointed in her place.
In an interview with the Express on Saturday, Alleyne-Toppin said her demotion from Minister of Tobago Development to Minister in the Ministry of the People was based on the recommendation of Jack.
"My information is that that was the recommendation of my leader,'' she said when asked what factors led to the shift.
Alleyne-Toppin also said the credit card controversy did not influence the change.
In March, Alleyne-Toppin was accused of improperly using the Government credit card and was criticised by the TOP which recommended that she apologise on the issue — which she did.
Alleyne-Toppin, however, maintained that she did no wrong as there was never any evidence that she went "shopping'' with the Government credit card.
Asked yesterday whether he recommended to the Prime Minister that Alleyne-Toppin be removed as head of the Tobago Development Ministry, Jack said his conversations with the Prime Minister on such matters were confidential.
Pressed further, he responded, "If it is that anything happens in the party, the buck stops with me, I will take all responsibility as leader. Mrs Toppin, like anyone else, has her shortcomings, Mrs Toppin like anyone else has her flaws... when something goes right or if something goes wrong, it is the leader to blame.''
He said when there is positive feedback from the people and party, he shares the joy and so too the blame when things were not right.
Jack requested that the Express speak to the Tobago population to find out what their views were.
Asked whether he felt Tobagonians were pleased with Alleyne-Toppin's performance, Jack said, "Mrs Toppin is human, she has made some mistakes...I'm quite sure the people will judge her for themselves.''
Jack took the opportunity to commend the Prime Minister on the reconfiguration of her Cabinet.
He offered advice to his colleagues, "This is a time to perform and deliver. I admonish them to give their very best in building this country. You earn the respect of the people through honesty and hard work.''
Sources told the Express that with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election carded for January next year, Jack wanted to take no chances in his election campaign and felt that the Alleyne-Toppin credit card controversy would come back to haunt the party on the campaign trail.
Jack refrained from commenting on this but said he wants to ensure that all the initiatives the Prime Minister promised the people of Tobago would get off the ground.
He noted further that the THA budget will be delivered today.
Commenting on the demotion of Alleyne-Toppin, political analyst Dr Winford James said the Prime Minister needs to come clean with the population and explain what was the motivation behind her changes.
"One can only speculate because the Prime Minister did not say, it was indeed a demotion, she (Alleyne-Toppin) was the Minister of Tobago Development now she is the Minister in the Ministry of the People, which is in effect a Junior Minister. At one time Vernella was riding high, she acted as Prime Minister on one occasion, why didn't she hold on to the Ministry?'' said James.
"I can only speculate in this way — it has been rumoured that she (Alleyne-Toppin) and Ashworth Jack are not on good terms and if that is the case, one can speculate that Mr Jack would have called for the change because he has better relations with Dr Baker,'' said James.
James also said the credit controversy was not the downfall of Alleyene-Toppin. "Her sin is not greater than the observable sins of others, especially since she's paid back the monies used.''
Commenting generally on the reshuffle of the Cabinet, James said, "We had a reshuffle and we don't quite know why...what knowledge does the public have to determine whether a Minister was performing or not?''
"The Prime Minister should explain, she doesn't have to get into the specifics, but give us a more rational explanation, why do we have such a large Cabinet..., what were the problems that motivated her to make the shifts in the first place?'' said James.
"We have a kind of superficial cosmetic change that took up a lot of the nation's time,'' he said.
Referring to the appointment of banker Larry Howai to replace Winston Dookeran as Finance Minister, James added that the public has no clue whether Dookeran was falling short and in what way.
He added that there was a "very dark cloud'' over Jack Warner's head and he was appointed to head the sensitive National Security Ministry.
Noting that the Prime Minister had described Warner as a man of action, James said, "I don't want to believe that she (Persad-Bissessar) is suggesting that there are no other people of action within her Government.''
"What we have is a display of a drama queen, hugging national attention but not providing the country with information it can use in a reasonable and rational way,'' said James.
He also noted the pullout of the Movement for Social Justice from the People's Partnership, adding that what the coalition promised in 2010 was not being delivered to the people.
New Cabinet Ministers— Communication Minister Jamal Mohammed, Finance Minister Larry Howai, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh and Marlene Coudray, Minister of Gender, Child and Youth Development, will receive their instruments of appointment today from President George Maxwell Richards at a ceremony at Knowsley House, Port of Spain at noon.