Thursday, February 22, 2018

Parties wrangle over State funding

TAXPAYERS' dollars being used to laud the accomplishments of the State and its agencies, in an attempt to help the incumbent political party get an advantage during an election campaign, was a bone of contention in the hotly contested 2010 general election.

The issue has again come to the fore in this year's Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, scheduled for Monday.

During the build-up to the 2010 general election, political leader of then-Opposition United National Congress (UNC) Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote to the Auditor General, calling for an investigation into the use of taxpayers' dollars for advertising.

In her letter to the Auditor General, Persad-Bissessar complained that since the dissolution of Parliament, "there has appeared on the electronic and print media various official Government advertisements which eulogise the performance of the Government, its ministers and the prime minister, in particular".

"The question clearly arises as to whether the expenditures on these frequent "political" advertisements, aired in the immediate run-up to a general election and paid for by public funds, were/are being lawfully and properly incurred for a legitimate purpose, and not for party political advantage," Persad-Bissessar stated.

The Indo-Trinbago Equality Council (ITEC) also took up the mantle and wrote the Integrity Commission requesting the matter be investigated.

That letter was written by ITEC chairman (and current Food Production Minister) Devant Maharaj.

"In the past, such advertising has been done without any formal objection to the EBC (Elections and Boundaries Commission), however, in a growing democracy, the time has now come for such abuses of the Representation of the Peoples Act to be stopped, and stopped immediately," Maharaj stated.

ITEC also sent a letter to the Elections and Boundaries Commission.

However, EBC chairman Norbert Masson responded that the commission was powerless to address the issue.

Current National Security Minister Jack Warner also raised the issue on the hustings.

The UNC and its coalition partners eventually won the election, with Persad-Bissessar becoming Prime Minister to lead the People's Partnership Government.

In the build-up to a no-confidence motion against Persad-Bissessar as Prime Minister last year, the tables were turned, with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley accusing Persad-Bissessar of using the State machinery to garner support.