Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dumas: Be vigilant with electoral list/ Electoral Irregulaties


A number of Tobago guesthouses have come under scrutiny by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) as it embarks on a field exercise to verify the names and addresses of people registered to vote in the January 21, 2013, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.

While he would not confirm information that the investigators were paying particular attention to guesthouses following irregularities related to voters' addresses, Nanan said the exercise was in progress and he had not yet received the "data from that exercise".

The Sunday Express has learnt there are instances where potential voters have given the addresses of certain guesthouses in the Canaan/ Bon Accord and Castara areas as permanent addresses by people registered to vote in the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.

This is one example why the Tobago Council of the incumbent People's National Movement-led THA had taken charge of voter irregularity to the EBC two weeks ago.

The spectre of possible irregularity of the list was first made by education officer of the Tobago Council and former PNM government minister Rennie Dumas, resulting in a meeting with the EBC chairman Dr Norbert Masson and a team on November 20.

On January 21, over 46,000 people will cast their votes to determine which of the three contending parties—the PNM, the Minority Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and newcomer Platform for Truth, led by former THA chief secretary Hochoy Charles—will lead the Assembly for the next four years.

Speaking with the Sunday Express in Tobago last Tuesday, Dumas said his team took a "small sample" of their findings of a voters' verification exercise, conducted by some 500 "field workers", to the EBC.
In the Tobago East area, for which he has responsibility, Dumas pointed out that their investigations revealed startling numbers of people whose names were missing from the list.

For instance, in the Bacolet/Mount St George district, some 25 per cent or 882 names were missing from an electoral list of 3,474.

The various search categories showed 40 people were dead, 61 had migrated, 425 had moved and 96 names were unable to be verified.

In the Belle Garden/ Goodwood district, 850 names were missing from a list of 3,930 names.
Thirty-six people had died, 71 had migrated, 249 had moved and no one could verify 79 names on the list.
In the Parlatuvier/ L'Anse Fourmi/Speyside district—from a voters' list totalling 3,515—545 were missing, while 38 had died, 104 had migrated, there were two name changes, 272 had moved and 87 names could not be verified.

The same, Dumas said, occurred in the Providence/Mason Hall/ Moriah district currently held by TOP leader Ashworth Jack, who has been nominated unopposed for the January election.
Jack comes up against PNM candidate Sheldon Cunningham and could face another contender from Charles's party.

In that district, 56.8 per cent or 2,288 names were found to be missing from the list of 4,028 voters. Dumas also shared with the EBC that some 28 people had died, 82 had migrated, 277 had moved and 41 names could not be verified.

As it relates to the Roxborough/Delaford area, 694 or 19.2 per cent of the 3,608 registered names could not be found. Thirty-eight had died, 125 had migrated, 19 underwent name changes, 393 moved and 96 names could not be verified.

Dumas said verification of the voters' list was the "first responsibility of a political party in any election", and was not intended to cast aspersions on the EBC.

"We checked and found about 40 per cent of the list, the people were found right where they were supposed to be, but in some instances, neighbours said 'we don't know that person' and so that person was labelled as 'unable to verify'; then we have those who moved to some other place in Tobago or had migrated.

"A critical example is Parlatuvier, where certain addresses were given and people were not found to be living there," he said, adding that in rural districts where everybody knew practically everybody, certain names were not being recognised. "You begin to wonder what's happening and you say, let's check again. It is on the basis of this that we reported to the EBC."

Dumas said the PNM was "being careful not to cause alarm", adding, "It is important to know we are making no accusations, all we saying is, that list is important to the electoral process... let us invite the EBC, other political parties and the citizenry, and anybody who wants the information we have to come and check it."

Dumas said, "Some people are trying to imply that we are setting up an argument for negating the polls, or stopping the polls. But far from it. All we are saying is that we have two interests—being able to identify the people, and to win their votes. We must examine the list."
This was imperative because "we certainly do not want people who do not legitimately live in the constituency to vote in the constituency to determine the electoral fortunes of the country".
Even though Tobago is an open society, Dumas said Tobagonians knew each other's faces, or names or nicknames, especially in the rural districts.

But he warned, "The day of the naive is gone, and we have to be vigilant about the electoral list."
"We met with Dr Masson and he and his team listened, offered perspective and points of view, but of course, they accepted that they have a responsibility to follow the legislation, ensure that the list is clean. They recognised that what we had to say had some cogency," he said.

Dumas said the EBC expressed concerns that nothing should be done to impugn the list, the process and their reputation, but he said, "Our exercise is, in a sense, keeping the processes, whole."
Stating his expectations clearly, he said, "I want an EBC officer to knock on the door of every name given and ask 'are you there?'"

Dumas's definition of voter-padding refers to people voting at a polling station they would not normally vote in.

He said: "Elections were traditionally won based on the votes in the home constituency, but a view seems to have emerged that in some constituencies, a candidate may have excess votes that he can spare to another constituency."

In other words, "The feeling is that you can move voters to an area where your candidate is weaker, so as to make up the gap between your candidate and your opponent, and this seems to be a developing trend," he added.

This jealous guarding of the voters list, Dumas said, was important to ensure that Tobagonians were the ones exercising jurisdiction and leadership over the island.

The election message of "Protecting the heritage of Tobago", Dumas explained, had nothing to do with race, even though it might make some people uncomfortable.

Denying any hidden message of race, Dumas said, "It cannot be right for one set of people in Trinidad to talk about their heritage, their land,their culture; and Tobagonians are not allowed or supported in the concept that we have a heritage to own, develop and protect."

 He said it was crucial for Tobagonians to understand their responsibility to protect their heritage at this juncture in their political history. Admitting that because of its low income earnings per capita, the island was susceptible to attracting wealthier institutions and the Trinidad market, Dumas said it was important for Tobagonians to understand that behind the borders of their Tobagonianness, "is the concept of self, of governance and statehood, which includes their land and culture and aspirations as a people". 

This, he warned, is the heritage which they must protect. He urged Tobagonians to make some decisions about "yourself, your people and land; that's what we are asking... hold it, hold it, develop it, protect it". Dismissing criticisms that the PNM was using race and the spectre of Indians from Trinidad coming to buy up their land in Tobago, Dumas said he was not going to be drawn into race issues. He reminded, however, that it was Ashworth Jack who had formed the TOP to protect Tobago and was against joining forces with anybody in Trinidad. "It was Jack who said Tobago people needed their own. Now he has made a total about-face... he is the vehicle who now wants Tobago to open up its mental, spiritual, physical and political space, regardless of the consequence to Tobago's heritage."



article reproduced unedited, headline modified from express Trinidad  

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