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THA campaign most expensive, says Wilson

Who's funding the PNM?

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

The election to claim the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is the most expensive that the People's National Movement (PNM) has ever had to fight.

Chairman of Tobago's PNM Council Neil Wilson told the Express that while he can't give an estimate on how much money the PNM has spent so far, it is much more than the party has spent on a single campaign.

He said the cost of T-shirts, an election must, has gone up by $10 per unit, along with the cost of other materials such as tents.

He was responding to the question of who was funding the PNM's campaign for the THA January 21 election, which was raised by THA Minority Leader Ashworth Jack in a Sunday Express story.

Jack was questioned on the source of funding for the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP). The Sunday Express had identified one of the contractors behind Jack's million-dollar house investing heavily in his bid to claim control of the THA.

When asked, Jack responded: "What does it matter?" and in turn, questioned: "It is always interesting that questions are raised about who's financing the TOP. But who is funding the PNM?"

In a telephone interview yesterday, Wilson said the PNM does not have a single contributor but has several contributors.

"A number of people have been calling and offering support. They are not happy with the way things are going on in the country and they want to contribute to help make a difference."

He said contributions ranged from $50,000 to $100,000.

Wilson, who is in charge of collecting party donations, said he has never received a cheque for $500,000 or even $1 million.

"We make sure that no one gives us any major contributions which are likely to compromise the THA in its functioning," he said.

However, the Express learned that two people who have been the beneficiaries of major contracts from the THA have been financially helping the party. Attempts to contact them yesterday for comment proved futile.

But Wilson disputes this.

"We make sure we do not entertain any quid pro quos. We do not want money with strings attached," he said.

"The collections are done above board and we keep tabs on the contributions. We try as far as possible to stay away from donors who hold contracts with the Assembly," he said.

Wilson said the PNM was up against a formidable political opponent and had to "step up to the plate and compete".

THA Chief Secretary Orville London said he did not get involved in the matter of financing with the party "for obvious reasons".

The issue of campaign party financing has been a thorny one for the People's Partnership Government. The early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act was viewed as an attempt to allow two self-professed financiers of the Partnership to be declared innocent by the country's courts after a decade-long legal battle.

THA Minority Leader Jack has faced tough questions over the construction of his family home in Hillsborough, Mt St George, Tobago by a company that has been the recipient of several contracts from the People's Partnership Government, including the $45 million Siparia Market and $70 million Couva/Preysal interchange.

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