Leader of the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Minority Council Watson Duke is accusing Finance and the Economy Secretary Joel Jack of falsifying statistics relating to Tobago’s economy.
Duke was at the time making his contribution to debate on the THA $4.72 billion revenue and expenditure estimates for fiscal 2020 during the 28th Plenary Sitting held in the Assembly Chamber, Jerningham Street, Scarborough, on Thursday, June 27.
Under the theme, A Measure of Failed PNM leadership, Duke, political leader of the Progressive Democratic Progress (PDP), told the Chamber that “...between 2016-2017 the Tobago economy declined by a whopping 5.5 per cent...not a marginal 1.6 per cent as the (Finance) Secretary will have us believe, get your data straight.”
Adding that “between 2016-2018 Tobago’s economy declined by 6 per cent,” Duke pointed out that a 6 per cent decline in Tobago’s economy is not a “marginal decline” as stated by Jack on June 24 when he presented the fiscal 2020 statement in the Sitting.
Duke’s statement brought Jack, Deputy Chief Secretary and Treasurer of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Tobago Council, to his feet.
“Sorry, presiding officer, the Minority leader is misquoting me. I never said that the economy of Tobago contracted by over 1 per cent. There was a 0.3 per cent of marginal decline,” Jack said.
He asked Duke to produce his sources of data to justify his statements stop “peddling misinformation.”
As Jack sat, he continued the cross-talk while Duke made his contribution.
However, presiding officer Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus warned Jack that he should respect Duke’s contribution.
“On Monday you were given the opportunity to speak without interruption until close to the end I had to correct the Minority Leader. I am asking you please to give him the same respect that you would have gotten during your presentation,” she told Jack.
Jack stood and apologised to the Chamber.
Continuing his contribution, the Minority Leader told the Sitting the figures he quoted were from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) and several “credible” economists.
“The CSO data estimates output (GDP) above $2 billion in 2011. This data also means that the Tobago economy has been in overall decline for the last 8 years,” Duke said.
“Challenge CSO,” the PDP leader told the PNM treasurer.
Chief Secretary claps back at Duke.
PNM’s Tobago Council Political Leader and Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, who spoke after Duke in the debate, poked fun at the PDP’s leader presentation.
He said Duke’s contribution was “hodgepodge” and filled with “innuendoes.”
Speaking of work done under his tenure as Secretary of Education, Charles said the Scarborough RC Primary School and an accompanying access road were constructed.
He said 33 primaries and nine secondary schools were expanded and various learning and teaching initiatives introduced.
According to the THA’s Act, debate on the revenue and expenditure estimates must wound up and the budget sent to Cabinet to be part of the national budget by June 30 annually.
Reporter: Camille McEachnie