Minority Leader Kelvon Morris – Photo by Marvin Hamilton
THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris has said workers in his office are still not being paid on time.
And he is calling on Chief Secretary Farley Augustine to urgently address the matter “because we will be left with no other choice but to assume that this is a deliberate and careful action taken by this executive to frustrate the duly elected office of the minority.”
Morris was addressing a news conference on Wednesday at the PNM Tobago Council headquarters, Scarborough.
In February, THA Assistant Secretary in the Office of the Chief Secretary Certica Williams-Orr claimed the non-payment of salaries to the staff of the Office of the Minority Leader was not an act of malice.
“The non-payment of salaries, unfortunate as it is to the staff members of the Office of the Minority Leader, was not an act of victimisation or maliciousness by the executive or the Chief Administrator,” she had said during the executive council’s Full Disclosure programme on Tobago Updates.
She blamed the Clerk of the Assembly for approving the payment of the Minority Leader’s staff, for an initial six months, without any letter stating their terms of employment or formal contract.
She claimed staff were paid for approximately a year before the clerk ceased payment of their salaries.
On that occasion, Williams-Orr also claimed that staffing of the Office of the Minority Leader was an unresolved issue.
She said in 2005 the then executive council had agreed to create three positions for the Office of the Minority Leader – research officer, secretary/office manager and messenger/ cleaner.
This, she added, continued until 2017, but it was later determined that those positions were insufficient to satisfy the administrative and other needs of the Office of the Minority Leader.
Williams-Orr said an interim arrangement was worked out between the then Clerk of the Assembly and the then Chief Administrator for a research specialist, business operations co-ordinator, hospitality attendant/cleaner and driver/courier.
But this recommendation was not formalised by the executive council.
On Wednesday, Morris said five members of his staff were paid by the Assembly Legislature up to last December “and for some reason, entering to January, we had the challenge of their payments being stopped.”
He continued, “It went so far, after making a lot of noise in the public space, they were paid for January in February. We are now in March and these workers have gone without their February pay. March (month end) is now upon us and they are without their March pay.
“And there is absolutely no plausible reason to explain to us what is the reason why these workers, who are properly engaged, on short term, are not being paid.”
Morris said he asked Parliament officials if such occurrences were common in offices such as that of the Opposition Leader.
“I am told that could never happen. The Parliament would never allow such a situation to happen where persons engaged in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition would not be paid.”
He said he also found out that during the period 2018-2021, under the previous Minority Leader Watson Duke, workers were paid “within a reasonable time.”
“So what is the issue why the workers in the office of the Minority are not being paid on time?
“Is it a clear and deliberate strategy to frustrate the work coming out of the office of the minority? Because it is no secret that this is one of the most hardworking offices of the minority that we have seen in quite some time.
“It is no secret that this office of the minority has been keeping the 13 (member) independent executive in check. It is no secret that we have been exposing their misbehaviour, their incompetence and, therefore, I am challenging this administration.”
Morris said if the THA is seeking to frustrate the work of his office, “It would be very dangerous for democracy because the office of the minority is an integral part of the democratic framework of the Tobago House of Assembly.”
He added an attack on the Office of the Minority is an attack on the people of Tobago.