Imbert, Kamla, Haynes in ‘pop-up’ debate on THA election

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Tabaquite Anita Haynes debated over whether or not there was “a pop-up initiative” conducted by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) before the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election on December 7, 2021. The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) defeated the PNM 14-1 in that election.

As the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives met on Friday to approve various supplementary allocations to different entities, Imbert indicated that part of a $23,525,000, included funding for pop-up initiatives by the EBC.

The commission began this initiative two years ago due to the covid19 pandemic. Due to public health regulations to reduce the spread of covid19, Imbert said there was a backlog of people who needed to get their id cards renewed at the EBC’s offices throughout TT.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. –

To reduce this backlog, he continued, the EBC is going directly into communities. This would involve the commission using facilities such as community centres as locations where people who need to renew their id cards can do so. He said this was a preferred option to people coming to the EBC’s offices to do their id renewal through an appointment system. ‘That is what the pop-up initiative is all about.”

To date, the EBC has done pop-ups in Arima/Piarco, San Fernando, Penal/Debe and Chaguanas. Imbert advised Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein the commission will be doing a pop-up soon in San Juan.

He explained the initiative covers registration areas. These areas are not limited to a single electoral constituency. Persad-Bissessar and Haynes insisted that a pop-up initiative happened before last year’s THA election. Imbert replied, “There was no pop-up initiative in the THA election. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George appealed for order as Persad-Bissessar continued to argue with Imbert.

Haynes claimed the EBC put out a statement saying there was a pop-up before the THA election. Imbert reiterated this was false. She then claimed documents which MPs received before the meeting, showed there was a pop-up in Tobago. Imbert was surprised that opposition MPs did not understand the English language.

Referring to the same documents that Haynes did, Imbert said. “There is a semi-colon. Are you not seeing the semi-colon? Do you know what the meaning of a semi-colon is?”

Imbert explained what that meant.

“There is a separate item. What it says, if you look at it very, very carefully, it (document) says ‘to facilitate payment to media houses for advertisements with respect to the registration pop-up initiative; the recently concluded THA election and the local government by-election (Debe South).”

Due to the location of the semi-colon in the sentence, Imbert said, “There is no relationship between the first item (pop-up initiative) and the second item (THA election).” Persad-Bissessar supported Haynes by claiming the semi-colon was in a different place to where Imbert said it was.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

After thanking Imbert for a lecture on syntax, Annisette-George quashed the trio’s argument and the committee continued its work. Imbert rejected Persad-Bissessar’s claims of media bias with respect to EBC advertisements for the pop-up initiatives, THA and local government by-elections.

He also dismissed claims from Hosein that the EBC got no payments from TSTT for two years. “They did not receive regular invoices from TSTT.” Imbert added the problem was rectified. Hosein then claimed the EBC rented cell phones for its personnel to use. Imbert replied, “That is a figment of the member’s (Hosein’s) imagination.”

Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved allocations of $4,114,000 and $14,419,000 for the Parliament and Service Commissions, respectively. Before the latter was approved, Hosein asked Public Administration Minister Allyson West which senior counsel represented the Police Service Commission in a legal matter brought against it last year by former commissioner of police Gary Griffith. She identified that person as Russell Martineau SC.


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