The issue of race was raised in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election debate on Thursday, at which Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), accused the People's National Movement (PNM) of fuelling racial division in the election campaign.
Former head of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute Victor Hart asked Jack what he thought of the claim that the race card was being played to win votes in the election.
"We have been told in the last couple of months that a political organisation has been going round and saying to people that if you vote for the TOP, the Indians will come and take over Tobago," Jack said.
He said in the past, the same thing was done which was considered as "poisoned letters".
Jack referred to THA deputy secretary Hilton Sandy's comment, made at a political meeting last Sunday, that a ship from Calcutta was waiting to sail to Tobago, pending the outcome of the election.
Jack said Sandy made the statement twice in one night, and he was not taken to task by PNM authorities.
"I would like to say to all of us in this country, we need to be careful; there is one God; if God was to judge us by race, which one of us will be first in line?" said Jack.
Chief Secretary Orville London said Sandy's comments were unfortunate and the PNM party should not be judged based on this.
The PNM, he said, is an organisation that is representative of all the people, regardless of geography, religion or race.
"An individual would have made a statement—the statement is unfortunate, it is wrong; it should not be condoned and it was not condoned— but for us to take that statement and create a kind of 'skizzle' between Tobago and Trinidad, and between one race and another, it is reckless; this is a situation, and I agree with Mr Charles; we got to treat with it, but we cannot treat with it by attempting to policitise it," he said.
The Platform of Truth's (TPT) political leader, Hochoy Charles, said the race issue must not be swept under the carpet.
"The only race that I know is the human race, and that is why we operate strictly on integrity and principle, and that's why we in Tobago, in 1995, could have joined and supported Mr Panday as Prime Minister," said Charles.
"I want us to be very honest; it is a matter that this country must face up to; we can't sweep it under the carpet because it is real, real in Trinidad and real in Tobago. So it is not only in Tobago that this is being practised by and preached by one side or the other. In Trinidad, this very People's Partnership, if you observe, they practise it blatantly, so we need to look at it, treat with it and get rid of it or else it can swallow up this country like in Fiji or in Guyana," he added.
For 90 minutes, the three leaders answered questions from Hart and economist Hayden Blades, and at one point in time, Charles accused Jack of breaching the rules by walking with prepared notes.
"I thought we were not supposed to walk with notes when we come in here; we should walk with our two long hands. I'm seeing notes displayed on the desk," he said.
Debate moderator Ronald Ramkissoon urged the leaders to adhere to the guidelines.
The issue of corruption was also discussed as Hart asked Charles what steps he would take, if his party should win, to improve this country's rating on the Corruption Perception Index.
Charles, in turn, said corruption should be punishable by death.
"We should make it punishable by death. When somebody kills another person, you only destroy a family; you destroy the bread-winner so you put the family to suffer, but when you take public money from the Treasury and cause lots of families to die, that is genocide and mass murder, that is how I view corruption in public office," he said.
London said the THA, under the PNM, has led by example and dealt with allegations of corruption in a transparent manner, noting when questions were raised with respect to the Milshirv project, the THA responded by putting the information in the public domain.
Jack criticised London, saying the auditor general stated there were hundreds of millions that could not be accounted for in the THA and every major project had gone over budget by five times the amount.
The leaders touched on various areas ranging from the economy, unemployment, the environment and energy sector.
In the end, they made their last pitch as to why they should be chosen to lead the THA.