(Trinidad Express) On the eve of today’s local government elections, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was forced to write to the acting Commissioner of Police requesting an investigation into allegations of bribery for votes.
However, acting Commissioner Stephen Williams, speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, said he was not aware of the matter and did not want to comment until he was fully apprised.
Questioned further on the police readiness to deal with any illegal activities today, he said: “We have in fact assigned more (officers) than any other election before. We have the kind of manpower in place to deal with anything that confronts us.
“I wish to say to the electorate to follow the rules that are published by the EBC in terms of breaches. We are asking the people to cooperate and comply with the laws. There will be adequate coverage at all polling stations and police will be patrolling all districts,” said Williams.
Chief Election Officer Ramesh Nanan told the Express EBC chairman Dr Norbert Masson yesterday sent a letter to the acting Commissioner of Police.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Communications Minister Gerald Hadeed met with Nanan and Masson yesterday at the EBC’s Port of Spain office, where they raised concerns over allegations the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) was involved in a plot to bribe voters with cash and cellphones today in exchange for a vote for the party.
Nanan said when the ministers visited, Masson was already in the process of writing Williams—based on an Express report last Friday which stated an investigation was launched into an incident on October 4, when thousands of dollars’ worth of phone cards were given to the ILP from the Valpark branch of Tru Valu supermarket.
Eastern Commercial Lands Ltd, trading as Tru Valu, had issued a statement stating it does not fund any political party and some employees at its Valpark branch, without authorisation, may have breached company policy and made phone card transfers to a name associated with a political party, and the matter was being probed.
Vincent Cabrera, head of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union, has threatened action should the supervisor at the branch be fired.
Cabrera said “reliable information” reached the union that on that date between the hours 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m., “instructions were given by the manager of Tru Valu’s Valpark branch to issue $25,100 worth of phone cards to the Jack Warner campaign”.
“It has been revealed that in a three-way telephone conversation involving the supermarket manager, the supervisor and Mr Daryan Warner (Jack Warner’s son), that instructions were issued to the supervisor, who questioned the need for such a large volume of phone cards. Mr Daryan Warner replied that the ILP was having a rally and that the party was giving out phones and ‘we have to put money on the people’s phone’,” he added.
Nanan said voters should adhere to the election rules and he was confident the people would exercise good judgment.
“We have already instructed all our poll day staff about the prohibition of the use of cellphones at the polling stations.”
Nanan said this rule was also enforced in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election last January and the Chaguanas West by-election in July, when similar allegations were also made.
Voters, he said, will be asked to place their cellphones and any other electronic device into a receptacle and they will retrieve them only after they have finished voting.
Asked if voters’ bags and body will be searched for hidden cellphones or cameras, Nanan said they will not.
“No, we don’t have any such procedure. We have to trust, there is trust in the system, people have confidence in the system and apart from that the layout of the system is as such to allow the presiding officer and the police officer on duty to monitor persons without compromising the secrecy of the marking of the ballot,” he said.
Nanan said he was confident the election would be a smooth one.
“We have had no incidents of resistance in the past and we don’t anticipate any now. Things have been put in place to monitor such.
“I ask the people to do their civic duty and respect the law and order, follow the instructions of the presiding officer and the police officers on duty.”
Nanan said this is not the first time such allegations were made, as he noted similar claims of cash- and cellphone bribes were made during the THA election, but he added: “There was no evidence of such happening or occurring in the polling stations.”
In the wake of the concerns raised by the Attorney General and other ministers, the EBC issued a release urging people to report any instances of bribery for votes to the police.
“Electors are advised that should they encounter anyone who is using bribery to influence them or anyone whom they know to vote in a particular manner, the matter should be reported to the police,” stated the EBC release.
It added that any individual found guilty of bribery or any other corrupt practice is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $15,000 and to imprisonment for six months or on conviction on indictment to a fine of $30,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months.