Government Minister Camille Robinson-Regis says the People’s National Movement (PNM) does not buy votes and it is not using State grants in its local government election campaign.
Robinson-Regis was responding to a page one story headlined “False Promises” in yesterday’s Express, which reported that Opposition Leader
Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for a police investigation into what she described as blatant “political corruption” in the use of State resources by PNM local government candidates who, via flyers, have invited people to call and visit them for State grants.
Two PNM candidates—Cocal/Mafeking candidate Imran Ali and Mayaro North, Ryan “Fry” Stuart—posted flyers on social media offering assistance for services such as food cards and a number of grants.
“I’m responding to your headline article in today’s newspaper, which I found quite misleading and bordering on injurious. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how far persons will stretch the truth just to tar the PNM,” said Robinson-Regis.
Via a WhatsApp message to the Express, she said she did see the candidates’ social media posts “and it clearly reflects their enthusiasm, misguided though it may be and perhaps also their inexperience”.
The minister said that this is definitely not the platform upon which the PNM has based its campaign, adding that the PNM’s platform is clear —it is “Local Government Reform, Make the Right Choice”.
“Of the 141 candidates, you would notice that these are the only two who are purportedly making such claims. These grants are available to all citizens who may be in need, at all times throughout the year and it is by no means the theme of the campaign,” she noted.
Not the PNM way
Robinson-Regis, who is also Leader of Government Business in the Parliament and Housing Minister, said grants are subject to rigorous checks.
“These grants are primarily central government functions subject to rigorous checks and balances. Very often persons ask for assistance to fill out forms and every MP, every councillor no matter what side of the political divide, provides that service,” she said.
Robinson-Regis criticised Persad-Bissessar, whom she said presided over “free-for-all” during her tenure as prime minister.
“Perhaps the free-for-all that the UNC perpetrated during the lead-up to the 2015 campaign is forgotten by your newspaper. I have not forgotten. It is passing strange that Kamla Persad-Bissessar who should be the person raising this issue, given that she, as Prime Minister, took Ian Alleyne during the St Joseph by-election of 2013, to introduce him to the people of St Joseph by opening 20 projects in the constituency over which candidate Alleyne had supervision,” said Robinson-Regis.
“Perhaps it is an oversight that the usage of Government projects to ‘fund’ the then UNC candidate to influence the election results has been blotted out. These very same ‘priority projects’ were discontinued by the PP (People’s Partnership) government after Terrence Deyalsingh won the seat,” she continued.
Stressing that the PNM does not buy votes, Robinson-Regis said: “To accuse an entire party of impropriety because the Leader of the Opposition said so is ludicrous. Mrs Persad-Bissessar needs to probe all the allegations surrounding certain current candidates under her pastoral care. We do not buy votes nor do we support surreptitious behaviour. This is simply not the PNM way but then again we are held to higher standards.”
Ali: People asking for help
The Express spoke with Ali yesterday, who said he was instructed by the PNM to take down the flyer from his Facebook page, which he did.
He explained that he was not using State assistance to bribe people—he was offering assistance to those who need help in filling out the applications.
Ali said he will continue doing so as many people, especially in the rural areas, are in need of help.
“If what I am doing is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right,” he said.
Ali said he has been on the ground and people have been asking for help.
“On my first walk on the ground, I would have completed all my PDs (polling divisions). I would have realised that people are literally in turmoil,” he said.
He said he was told there are numerous different ways via State grants to assist people, but many are not aware and some do not have the resources such as Internet and computers to apply.
He said he was told there are 115 different grants available.
Asked who told him this, he said: “I went and seek my information off the website of the Ministry of Social Development, these are things that are there and are available.”
Ali said since the flyer was posted, many people have come forward for help.
He said Persad-Bissessar should not scold him for reaching out to the people when the UNC (United National Congress) never had an office in the area for the past three and a half years.