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TOP urges Integrity body: Probe THA media blitz

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

The bitter election battle between the People's National Movement (PNM) and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) has taken a new turn as the Integrity Commission has been asked to probe the millions of dollars being spent by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) on media advertisements over the past few weeks.

The Integrity Commission is currently looking into a complaint made by Tobagonian Goslyn Loraine, who raised the issue of the acquisition of the land and construction of TOP leader Ashworth Jack's multimillion-dollar private house in Tobago with registrar of the Integrity Commission Martin Farrell.

In a letter dated January 17, attorney Joseph George wrote to Integrity Commission chairman Kenneth Gordon on behalf of the TOP, taking issue with expenditure on advertisements and accusing the PNM of using State resources for its own propaganda.

"My client has instructed me that within the recent weeks leading up to the election, which is carded for January 21, 2013, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of public advertisements, both in the print and electronic media, by the THA, which seeks to extol the achievements of the THA and, in particular, the stewardship of Mr Orville London, who is a candidate in the election," stated the letter.

"Whereas my client understands and fully appreciates that the THA must be awarded some degree of latitude to engage in its public relations and propaganda, my client is nevertheless shocked, alarmed and dismayed that the massive and unprecedented advertising campaign bears such close confluence to the said election," the letter added.

George stated it was his client's view that the conduct on the part of the THA amounted to "a flagrant abuse of power and is nothing short of a naked attempt by the THA as currently constituted to seek to influence the outcome of the elections by the use of the resources of the THA".

The letter noted the Integrity in Public Life Act expressly prohibited any person or body from using resources to favour any person or group.

"It is our respectful view that a purposive construction of the Act will demand that the actions of the THA to favour the PNM by the massive and unprecedented proliferation of advertisements is clearly within the contemplation of this prohibited conduct. In the circumstances, I hereby, on behalf of the TOP, formally lodge a complaint to your commission, asking that commission to fully investigate all the facts and circumstances surrounding the decision to engage in this massive and unprecedented advertising campaign," the letter read.

The matter, stated the letter, offends the Integrity in Public Life Act and warrants an investigation by the Integrity Commission.

For the past few weeks as both parties have engaged in their campaigns, they have pointed fingers at each other, taking issue over the content of public advertisements.

The fight for power is visible in Tobago as both parties have transformed the sister isle into red (PNM) and yellow (TOP) zones, with flags, life-sized portraits of candidates and paraphernalia in public spaces.

Music trucks decorated with PNM and TOP flags and banners have been making their way through the streets, blaring election jingles and urging people to come out and vote.

While the PNM and the TOP have spent millions on advertisements in an election blitz to win the THA election, the third party in the race—The Platform of Truth (TPT)— has no public advertisements and, instead, has opted to walk the streets and meet people in an attempt to woo voters and persuade them to vote for the Hochoy Charles-led Tobago party.

Efforts to contact THA Chief Secretary Orville London for comment on advertising proved futile yesterday as calls and text messages to his mobile phone went unanswered.

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