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THA electoral debate Set for January 10

The Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission (TTDC) is an autonomous, not for profit organisation that was established in 2010 by the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce.

The TTDC will be facilitating a leadership debate between the political leaders contesting the Tobago House of Assembly Elections on January 10 at 8.05 p.m. This debate preceeds the Tobago House of Assembly election which takes place on January 21. Tobago has faced many challenges prior to, during and in the aftermath of the finanical crisis through its main income earner, tourism. Statistics for Tobago are limited, however international tourist arrivals steadily declined by 66 per cent between 2005 and 2010 and this has severly affected the economy of Tobago. This crisis led to the development of a stimulus package as developed by the private sector and Central Government. A development fund was thus included in the national budget in September 2012. Additionally, in August of 2012 the Tobago Division of the Chamber recommended to the Minister of Finance that several infrastructural improvements be made for Tobago. This was aimed at not only upgrading tourist arrivals but the overall development of the island. Based on the current economic scenario it was agreed that the main topic of the debate would be "Tobago's Economic Development with subtopics Revenue Generation, THA Legislative Reform and Social Sector Development."

The TTDC believes that such debating by political actors would bring significant value to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago by stimulating discussion and information-sharing to guide their assessments and decision-making in political matters.

It is the aim of the Commissioners that the debate be moderated by a well respected Tobagonian personality who understands the issues facing Tobagonians. The parties that have verbally agreed are the People's National Movement (PNM), Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and The Platform of Truth (TPT). However, an official announcement would have been made after the close of Nomination Day, that is, December 31 when the parties contesting at least 50 per cent of the seats will be confirmed. This leaders' debate will be carried live by all major television and radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago. It is our intention for all persons to be able to access the debate. The public will be able to get involved by sending their questions to the moderator prior to the debate via our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TTDebatesCommission), twitter account (@TTDebatesC) and the website (www.ttdebatescommission.org). Graduate students from the University of the West Indies will also be assisting the moderator by providing feedback from Tobagonians on what they want to be debated. The moderator will then be the sole person to mould the questions from all feedback received.

Further, TTDC has appointed a committee called the Local Organising Committee (LOC) to assist in planning and organising the debate. This is to ensure that there is full inclusion and participation by those who are on the ground and are all too familiar with the challenges and issues faced in Tobago. The LOC offers technical and administrative support to the TTDC in this debate. The LOC is chaired by Carlos Dillon and other members include AnnMarie de Gazon, George Leacock and Janet Parks.

The goal of the TTDC for these electoral debates is to stimulate discussion by engaging policitical leaders at the Central and Local Government levels to debate on the issues of national importance. The embedding of these debates into the policital culture of Trinidad and Tobago is a step toward development of the policitical system. These debates not only generate discussion but provide a platform for accountability and transparency of political leaders. Further, it adds to the sophistication of the political process as citizens are able to make more informed decisions about their choice of representatives.The TTDC is governed by six Commissioners chosen from a range of demographics and professions to ensure balance and fair decisions are made. The Commission is made up of chairman, Andrew Sabga, and Commissioners Angella Persad, Father Clyde Harvey, Owen Baptiste, Ronald Harford and Rhoda Reddock. Decisions made by the Commission are executed by Chamber CEO Catherine Kumar.

Although the TTDC is still a budding organisation, it has some experience in putting on debates and is looking forward to this historic debate in Tobago.

In May 2010, the TTDC attempted to host a leadership debate between the main politcial parties prior to the General Election. Unfortunately, not all political parties agreed to debate and the debate was called off. Although this was a missed opportunity for citizens numerous public personalities supported the idea of a national leadership debate. The TTDC thereafter in 2010 hosted a successful Local Government Election Debate which was carried live by CNMG. TTDC received technical assistance from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) when establishing the Commission and planning the debate for Local Government. The TTDC is part of a regional and international network of organisations set up to host electoral debates. Following the Local Government Election Debate in 2010, the next major event forTTDC was the invitation to attend workshops and witness the 2nd US Presidential Debate at Hofstra University in October 2012. The Commissioners who attended were given the opportunity to increase their know how by observing how NDI and Commission on Presidential Debates plan and execute debates. This also assisted in strengthening the ties of the international debating network.

The TTDC is proud to facilitate this historic debate in Tobago and also looks forward to hosting debates for both the Local Governmment elections to be held in 2014 and the General Election to be held in 2015. We invite all Trinbagoians to become part of this drive to cultivate a culture of debating on national issues at election time.

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