After Kamla Complains: PNM Lays 2024 EBC Report

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By Prior Beharry

AS the 2024 EBC Boundaries Report is to be laid in Parliament on Monday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is concerned about collusion between the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

In a release on Saturday, Persad-Bissessar said, “If the Rowley Government has once more, in this latest 2024 EBC report, used its tremendous influence to cause/and/or collude with the EBC to gerrymander and manipulate the boundaries to enable a PNM to win in the upcoming elections, this is unconstitutional and the UNC will mount a legal challenge against any such move.

“I now demand that the Rowley Government urgently set a date for the debate of the report in the Parliament, in adherence to the Constitution and principles of democracy.”

She said the PNM capituated to the demands of the UNC that included recent threats of legal action and a formal query to the EBC.

Late Friday, the government indicated via a Parliamentary Order Paper that it would finally lay this critical report in the Parliament on Monday.

Persad-Bissessar added, “However, they have still not set a date for debate on this matter.”

She said, “As I have previously noted, the UNC has steadfastly been fighting the Government’s unconstitutional refusal to bring the EBC 2024 report for Parliamentary scrutiny and debate on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, as it affects our very political stability and democratic foundation.”

On March 18, in Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said, “The Government is in breach of the Constitution once again, by its failure to lay in this House, the report of the Elections and Boundaries Commission…”

She said she wrote a letter to the Chief Elections Officer Fern Narcis-Scope on April 1 and a date later she wrote bacl to say that the EBC reported was “submitted to the Honourable Prime Minister and Speaker of the House of Representatives on March 13, 2024.”

The opposition leader said, “This means that the Rowley government has had this crucial EBC report in its possession for nearly a month now.

“Since receiving it on March 13, 2024, there were three subsequent Parliamentary Sittings in which they could have laid, and debated this crucial report to enable public scrutiny and consumption— Friday, March 15, 2024, Monday, March 18, 2024, and Friday, March 22, 2024.

“Yet, they blatantly refused to so do. The Rowley Government further contravened the democratic process by deliberately refusing to answer my aforementioned query on March 18, 2024.

“This is unacceptable, and reeks of the dangerous dictatorial tendencies that are a frightening trademark of this Rowley government.”

“The fact is that the 2024 Boundaries Report can seriously affect the outcome of the next general elections, and the overall political stability of Trinidad and Tobago, given the possible highly questionable changes to electoral boundaries that it may propose.

“This deliberate, ongoing subterfuge, lack of transparency and accountability by the Rowley Government is therefore nothing short of sinister, and bordering on an abuse of public office.

She said serious questions arise:
(1) Why has the Rowley Government tried so desperately to eschew bringing the report to Parliament for proper, transparent debate and scrutiny, and only did so when forced by the UNC?

(2) Is this reluctance due to the Rowley Government acting in collusion with the EBC to illegally gerrymander and manipulate the electoral boundaries in favour of the PNM for the upcoming 2025 General Elections?

She said the EBC has a very questionable, longstanding history of doing this.

Persad-Bissessar said, “In 2021, following the 6-6 deadlock-tied results in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Elections, the Rowley Government arbitrarily and very questionably passed the highly controversial THA Amendment bill in Parliament, to increase Tobago’s electoral seats from 12 to 15.”

She quoted political analyst Professor Hamid Ghany in his Guardian column titled The politics of St Joseph published Sunday, March 31, 2024. He said, “After St Joseph was significantly altered in 2004 in time for the 2007 general election, it became a true marginal. In its 2004 report on the review of constituency boundaries, the EBC moved polling divisions 1045 and 1060, which were reliably PNM in the St Ann’s East constituency, and placed them in St Joseph.”

And in a letter to the editor of the Express, veteran politician, and former long standing Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister Trevor Sudama stated: “Any reference to the gerrymandering of constituencies will quickly draw forth the accusation that it is an attack on the integrity and professionalism of the members of an independent institution—the Elections and Boundaries Commission. However, there has been a long-standing perception that constituency boundaries were drawn up to favour the PNM.”

Persad-Bissessar said, “In discussing the 1961 general election, Prof Selwyn Ryan—hardly to be regarded as a sympathiser of the opposition—had this to say: ‘There is no doubt whatsoever in the writer’s mind that the constituencies were gerrymandered.’—Race and Nationalism in TnT, page 245).”

She said, “Forty-six years later, for the general election in 2007, the boundaries of the St Joseph constituency were changed, which facilitated victories for the PNM thereafter.”

I”ndeed, in the past eight years, (coinciding with the Rowley government’s tenure) the EBC has also established a highly questionable reputation for acting arbitrarily and outside the rule of law in several other electoral matters.

“This has led to the UNC successfully challenging several of these decisions in the courts.”

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