POLITICAL analyst Dr Shane Mohammed says he sees no problem with the appointment of political commentator Dr Winford James as deputy chairman of the recently assigned Studley Park Enterprises Ltd (SPEL) board.
On Monday, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said James’ appointment was under review after concerns were raised in the public domain.
James, the brother of Trevor James, the THA’s Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Renewal – the division responsible for the Studley Park Quarry – was among 11 committee members appointed for a year to oversee the quarry’s operations.
Speaking with Newsday on Tuesday, Mohammed said the appointment could be looked at in two ways.
“Everything in this country has gone out of context. People don’t contextualise scenarios and situations and analyse it in the context by which it is existing. The second thing we must look at is people’s competence, their ability to perform, their qualification, their years of experience and what they bring to the table.”
He added: “We tend to forget also that in this country, we’ve had at one point in time the prime minister appointing his wife as a minister of his government, and she served as minister of education and minister of local government. Both portfolios in which she excelled in, and she added value to our country.
“So we must not be so quick to criticise and to dismiss such appointments.”
He said the larger picture must be looked at.
“The fact that Dr James was appointed by his brother to a state enterprise to serve as deputy chairman is not even comparable with what is happening at a national level where the government is paying the former attorney general’s relative, as in his wife, sums of money in rent and nobody seems to be batting an eye lid.
“That has become a nine-day wonder. That existed from 2015 to 2020 and the government was still re-elected.”
He said the chatter should be ignored, as people are making a lot of noise without putting perspectives and context to the situation.
“If someone’s wife, someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s uncle, someone’s aunt holds a certain level of competence, skills, education, experience why should that prevent them from serving in any capacity within an administration where a brother or a sister or a husband or a wife may be a secretary or a minister – I find it foolish.”
Meanwhile, chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George described the situation as “James squared.”
“While I’m confident of the abilities and value which Dr Winford James brings to the table, and I am also confident of his professionalism, his appointment to a board under a division led by his brother Trevor James does not look good; and it is no answer to say that ‘others did worse.’”
George said he wanted the current THA administration to hold themselves up to the standard of “those who do better, not to those who do worse.”
“There’s a saying in the law that justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done.
“Do the right thing THA.”
“We expect this THA administration to set the bar for a higher standard of accountability and transparency in public affairs, rather than simply sinking into the political morass of the never-ending finger-pointing and blame game of, ‘The other side did it too.’
Commenting on the matter, THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris said the issue was bigger than the James brothers and the “clear conflict of interest in the appointment.”
“We all got to ask ourselves the question, what did they promise during the campaign? And to justify their about turn, they are suggesting that previous administrations did it too.
“I accept that an administration is entitled to choose those persons they trust to implement their policies and get the job done. However, it should not be at the expense of the principles of good governance and transparency.”
He questioned, “Doesn’t the PDP have equally qualified and competent individuals who can fill these roles? Or is it a case that now that the PDP is in power, let’s forget everything we told you we were going to fix and instead it is the PDP time to fix our friends and family now?
“If Tobago is to be improved and developed in the way we all hope, then we must be able to identify right as right and wrong as wrong.”
He said the Chief Secretary could not absolve himself from blame in this and other related matters, since he is the head of the Executive who considered and confirmed the appointment of the SPEL board.
“He ought to have recognised that such an appointment of one brother to the other on a board as high-profile as this board will raise red flags as to the issue of conflict of interest.
“This should not have required the intervention of the public.”
Morris wondered if the Chief Secretary’s principles were influenced only by public perception and popularity.
He hastened to add that going forward, “We should perhaps seek to develop a policy document outlining a clear set of guidelines as to how we engage persons for board appointments and other forms of engagement as to remove all ambiguities and doubt.”