TOP LEADER: Ashworth Jack

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SIS $$ FOR TOP

PM's contractor pumps millions into Tobago campaign

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

One of the contractors behind Tobago Minority Leader Ashworth Jack's million-dollar mansion is investing heavily in the Tobago Organisation of the People's (TOP) campaign bid to claim control of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

The Sunday Express has learned from several sources that Couva-based Super Industrial Services (SIS) —the recipient of several contracts from the People's Partnership Government, including the $45 million Siparia Market and $70 million Couva/Preysal Interchange—is footing some of the TOP's bills for its electioneering process.

Asked yesterday if the SIS was financing the TOP's election bid, Jack responded: "What does it matter?"

In turn, Jack asked: "It is always interesting that questions are raised about who's financing the TOP. But who is funding the PNM (People's National Movement)?"

SIS's construction firm, Casa Contractors Ltd, was responsible for extension works at the Phillipine residence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last March.

The firm also worked on Jack's home in Hillsborough, Mt St George, Tobago.

In a Sunday Express exclusive on December 23, Jack had denied the construction of his home was a "gift" from a local contractor, saying he was not "hand-to-mouth" and was solely responsible for building his family a "nice" home.

He claimed to have paid for his home by working four jobs, including from funds accrued from the sale of cucumbers and pumpkins from his garden and was being paid a $35,000-a-month salary as project manager with a firm in Trinidad.

The TOP leader, who last week said he turned down a Cabinet position in the hope of being Tobago's next Chief Secretary, told the Sunday Express yesterday the TOP has been raising funds for years in the hope of wresting power away from the PNM.

Jack said the TOP has hosted many fund-raising dinners.

Asked again about SIS and financing, Jack answered: "I have already answered. What more do you want me to say?"

SIS owner Krishna Lalla did not respond to calls to his cellphone yesterday.

A number of attempts to reach company officials for comment last week also went unanswered.

Meantime, the TOP has steered away from the People's Partnership's go-to advertising executive for its election and party media blitz, Ernie Ross.

Asked why he was not working with Ross in this instance, given the Partnership was keen on a THA victory, Jack told the Sunday Express that while he has respect for Ross' work, the TOP chose who it wanted to work with this time around.

"This is the TOP. We run our campaign," he said.

But he didn't offer any details on how the TOP was handling its campaigning.

"I do not want to talk about that," was all he would say.

The Sunday Express confirmed from Dennis Ramdeen, founder of Pepper Advertising, that his company was only handling the placement of advertisements.

The Sunday Express learned the TOP's spending on newspaper advertisements has been small compared to the PNM's spending, pegging it at close to $1 million to date.

The TOP, the Sunday Express was told, has been focused on spending money on its ground campaign.

On the other hand, the PNM has spent millions on radio and print advertisements in the country's daily newspapers.

Jack told the Sunday Express he'll be campaigning every night for the next two weeks.

Asked about arriving at a political meeting last Thursday in a National Security helicopter, Jack said he was simply accepting a "lift".

He told the Sunday Express he was in Trinidad for a meeting with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and National Security Minister Jack Warner.

He explained that Warner, chairman of the United National Congress (UNC), was going to Tobago to appear on a TOP platform in Roxborough and offered him a lift back, which he accepted.

He dismissed any suggestion there was an abuse of State resources for election campaigning.

In a bid to fulfil a campaign promise, the Government will debate a bill to repeal and replace the Tobago House of Assembly act in the coming weeks to grant Tobago greater autonomy.

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