‘Bottomless pit’: Government Senator Vernella Alleyne-Toppin gesticulates during her presentation at yesterday’s sitting of the Upper House.
...‘What masquerades as governance in THA is a travesty’
by Ria Taitt Political Editor
Giving money to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is like pouring money into a bottomless pit, Minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development Vernella Alleyne-Toppin declared yesterday.
She said it was time to rein in the PNM-led THA, which was a “runaway horse”.
“And I am asking if we in Tobago (are) suckers for punishment, why are we continuing to vote for them?” she said.
It was a case of one Tobago firebrand against another in the Senate yesterday, as Alleyne-Toppin, a former teacher, responded to the contribution of her former pupil, Shamfa Cudjoe, whom she dubbed the “Bethel badjohn”. But Alleyne-Toppin, who said she was from “Government house” and didn’t have the same (badjohn) training as Cudjoe, nevertheless pulled no punches as she put a verbal thrashing on Cudjoe and the PNM.
She said Cudjoe was “rude” and “disrespectful in a contribution, which she described as “vile, vapid, vituperative, vitriolic, venomous and vacuous.
On the issue of zero allocation for CEPEP, Alleyne-Toppin said Tobago had to wean its people off CEPEP.
She said in Tobago, CEPEP was under the THA and people were only getting work if they are PNM.
URP means “U are PNM” and CEPEP means “continuous employment painting every pebble”, she said.
“The children are following the parents and the grandparents into CEPEP,” Alleyne-Toppin stated.
Alleyne-Toppin said the PNM-led THA had a pattern of hiring voting banks, only to send them home after election. She said it happened in 2009 and it happened again this election.
“Nearly 5,000” people were sent home last week after the elections. She said many were from the division of Hilton Sandy, “who is very sick and I am sorry”.
As Cudjoe denied this, she said several of the people in the Roxborough Folk Performers, whom she worked with, had letters (of retrenchment).
“My own stepdaughter was sent home last night,” she said.
She said the PNM government had never given Tobago nearly as much money as the People’s Partnership Government.
She said the THA from 2001 to now received $22 billion.
“Are you getting quality for that money?” she asked. “What masquerades as governance in the THA can only be referred to as a travesty,” she said.
She said assemblymen went around to houses, giving money for home repairs in January. She said, however, it was only PNM “pardners” giving this largesse.
Alleyne-Toppin said the THA had “erased” foreign investment.
She said the Caucasian people tell her that “Mr (Orville) London don’t like Caucasian people”.
“Then they don’t want you to vote for certain people because a Calcutta ship would come in. The people who did the hospital, the Mongolian people, they say they don’t want them there. So we want to develop tourism, but we want to make sure that we erase all kinds of people,” the minister said.
“You run your tourism to the ground so the hotels and guest houses remain empty,” she added.
She said she ran a guest house and if the Calcutta ship wasn’t coming she wasn’t going to get a cent.
She said the THA had 34 estates in Tobago, not one under cultivation.
“We (the Central Government) are begging them for a piece of land to put a university. And it’s only fight-down, to quote the young people. “Three years we begging!” she said.
Alleyne-Toppin said the THA was synonymous with the PNM culture of “nepotism, tribalism, ghost gangs, cronyism, side kicks and sweetheart deals like the Milshirv”. She said the issue with Milshirv was not whether the BOLT (Build, Own, Lease and Transfer) arrangement was legal, but whether one had the approval of the Ministry of Finance before one entered into such an arrangement which could potentially become the State’s debt. He said it was because the PP loved Tobago that the Minister of Finance said go ahead and build Milshirv, rather than “carry a war of attrition”.
She noted that Milshirv was located opposite to lands owned by the THA on Friendship Estate, but this land was not used for the administrative complex.
Alleyne-Toppin said the THA will not recognise the Social Welfare Board installed by the Minister of Tobago Affairs and people were suffering for three years, not getting welfare.
“So who loves Tobago?” she asked.
She said while Cudjoe was calling for respect, as minister whenever she attended functions, she was not recognised in the protocol line-up when THA people gave speeches.
“Sometimes when they (acknowledge) everybody (else), including the janitor, then they call me. And (Cudjoe) talking about respect. Absolutely no respect at all!” the minister said.
She said she was a grown woman in 1976 when the Ministry of Tobago Affairs was disbanded as punishment for Tobago voting DAC against the PNM. She said Eric Williams, the “father of the nation”, said “Tobago could eat grass”.
“What kind of father is that who would cut off some of his children? That is not even a godfather or stepfather,” she declared.