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Both sides confident ahead of THA vote

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Government and Opposition have both ruled out the possibility of a tie in the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, which are due sometime between December 26 and January 25.

But, as the House of Representatives debated a motion to approve the Elections and Boundaries (Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly) Report, each side expressed confidence about the result. The People's National Movement (PNM) currently controls the body eight to four.

Tobago Affairs Minister Delmon Baker said Government was looking for a 12-0 Assembly in the People's Partnership's favour. He said the People's Partnership had promised to bring a bill to amend Section 75 (1) of the Constitution to give the THA full executive and legislative authority. Noting that the PNM was saying it would not support such constitutional reform, he warned that if the PNM withheld support, it "would feel the brunt of (the wrath of) the people of Tobago as we go to the polls". He said the people of Tobago were not prepared to allow any politicians to stand in the way of change. Constitutional reform would required 31 votes, while Government has only 29.

Baker said, however, he agreed with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, that the EBC had demonstrated a capacity to manage the affairs under its remit. "I have not seen the Chairman engaged recently in any photograph publicising and watching any politician," he said, in a veiled reference to Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon. "So he is doing his duty," he added, as his colleagues chuckled loudly.

He also said much of the wealth of the Tobago was not staying on the island, but was going to friends and family of party hacks and party supporters. "We are prepared, strong and ready... and we would see a clean, washed, and bright THA," he said.

His colleague, Minister in the Ministry of the People Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, accused the last administration of gerrymandering the boundaries of Tobago. Alleyne said the former minister of housing "set out to put houses in certain polling divisions to influence the electoral outcome". She said fortunately today that problem had been overcome. "And we are ready to go straight into the elections and come out victorious," she said.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said he was looking forward with "great gusto" to the THA election. But he said he would save the campaign talk for the hustings. Instead, he called on the EBC to ensure the three-month residency requirement for Tobagonians voting in that election is strictly adhered to and persons coming onto the list are bona fide Tobagonians who qualify to vote. He said the commission has been doing that, to the best of his knowledge.

Rowley suggested the commission may want to look at changing the number of electoral seats from 12 to an odd number to avoid the possibility of a tie, but ruled out a tie as likely in this coming THA election. "We used to have 36 seats in this House and we did end up with the tie, which caused a lot of unnecessary aggravation. The same thing is possible in Tobago, having 12 seats. Not this time, of course. But maybe somewhere down the road, there might be a tie and six-six would put us in the same situation that we were in with the 18-18. "So sometime in the future the commission might want to consider 13 seats in Tobago to ensure that there is a clear winner," Rowley stated.

Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan, who piloted the motion asking that the EBC Report be approved, said a new enlightened leadership with a strategic vision for a holistic and balanced development of Tobago was required. He said the electorate in Tobago increased from 41,899 in June 25, 2008, to 46,095 as of August 2, 2012. This increase suggested there would be a commensurate rise in the demand for the provision of public goods and services and infrastructure. This called for visionary leadership, judicious management of financial and other resources and an increase responsiveness to the needs and demands of the populace and better representation.

However, Rambachan said there was a slow pace of delivery in Tobago of public projects which have been also plagued by cost overruns under the current THA administration. By contrast, the People's Partnership Government had adhered to the law in terms of its financial contributions to the sister isle, had announced many projects to help develop Tobago and had held more Cabinet meetings in Tobago than any other administration. The EBC Report was approved by the Parliament.

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