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Chief Secretary: $25k for THA budget editing ‘normal’

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Chief Secretary Farley Augustine during his budget presentation at the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough in June. FILE PHOTO/THA –

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has confirmed the payment of $25,000 to political commentator Dr Winford James for editing the fiscal 2022/2023 THA budget statement.

On Tuesday, the invoice began circulating on social media, with many questioning whether the editing of the annual statement is a normal practice, along with the attached fee.

Speaking on Tobago Channel Five’s Rise and Shine programme on Wednesday, Augustine confirmed the invoice in circulation.

“Yes, let me say there is truth to that. It is a very normal practice, very normal practice, but yet we have the creation of mischief around it,”

He stressed, “There is nothing absolutely controversial or strange about that.”

James is an English lecturer at UWI, St Augustine. He has taught at Roxborough Composite and Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive. His Linkedin profile lists him as fluent in English, English Creole, French and Spanish.

UWI’s website lists James under associate full-time staff in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics.

James, a newspaper columnist, has also shown support for Augustine’s Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political party in the recent past, appearing at a PDP political meeting in the lead-up to last year’s THA election on January 25, 2021. That election ended in a six-six tie between the PDP and the PNM.

In April, James’s appointment as deputy chairman of the new Studley Park Enterprises Ltd (SPEL) board came under review by the THA after public criticism. James is the brother of Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Renewal Trevor James, whose division is responsible for the Studley Park quarry. The appointment was later revoked.

Defending the use of James’s services on Wednesday, Augustine said that the division under the previous administration would have paid upwards of $36,000 for editing. He promised to provide evidence to support his claims on Thursday, along with receipts to show the budget preparations would have taken place in the past.

He said what people need to understand is the process of producing the budget.

“For the budget, we spend in excess of a month organising the budget. So we have all the technocrats – people like (division’s senior economist) Dr Carlos Hazel, (division’s technical adviser) Anselm Richards – several people in the space meeting and we put all the information from the different divisions. We pull information from the economists in the space, and we sit and we write.”

He said usually the writing is done after working hours, and the team that works on the budget does not work during regular working hours, to avoid distractions.

“So they would come to work at 5pm and they would leave work sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning. I’ve been there with then up until 5am in the morning. And so we write by pulling the content together.

“Dr James’ role is to check for grammar, language, construction. Essentially what we are writing is like a thesis like a doctoral thesis that requires an editor, the skills of which we do not have resident in the division and that has always been the case.”

He said the fact that those on the opposite side are making an issue of this showed not just pettiness, but unreasonableness.

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“Beyond that, it shows a sort of deliberate attempt to create noise where there is no need for noise, because this practice has been ongoing.

“I can tell you, beyond editing, this might have been the cheapest budget preparation, because beyond editing we would have had payments for consultants, we had payments in tens of thousands of US dollars to foreign entities to help in budget preparations – none of that happened this time.”

Contacted on Wednesday, former THA chief secretary and PNM Tobago Council political leader Ancil Dennis said: “The nepotism and clientelism continues blatantly and brazenly.”

In a Facebook post mere minutes later, Dennis said the people of Tobago rejected the PNM 14-1 in the THA elections last December.

“Notwithstanding the many reasons for the PNM’s defeat advanced by many, I have accepted and concluded that Tobagonians wanted change; not exchange.

“Therefore, I find it insulting and annoying when PDP apologists including the Chief Secretary and his secretaries attempt to justify their missteps, mistakes, misfires, misfortunes, miscalculations, mismanagement, misfits, and misery with public statements such as ‘PNM did it too.’”

He said it is embarrassing that their “leh we fix dis” slogan has turned to “leh we do dis too.”

He added, “Tobago must now endure this clueless and classless bunch for several more months. It is my hope that they get it together quickly for the sake of us all. Meanwhile, I am happy to lead the process to rebrand and reintroduce a PNM that will neither repeat the mistakes of the past, nor be brave and boldfaced enough to justify foolishness with ‘them was doing it too.’”