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THA Election debate on
The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election debate scheduled for tomorrow is on. In a statement last evening, the T&T Debates Commission (TTDC), organisers of the event, confirmed the leaders of the three parties invited to participate—Orville London (People’s National Movement), Ashworth Jack (Tobago Organisation of the People) and Hochoy Charles (Platform of Truth)—had finally agreed to go ahead.
Lengthy disagreements among the party leaders over a moderator had almost resulted in the debate’s cancellation. However, the TTDC, in a last-minute bid, changed the format and agreed on chief economist at Republic Bank Limited, Dr Ronald Ramkissoon, as the facilitator, and former TT Transparency Institute chairman Victor Hart and Hayden Blades will also participate as questioners.
Earlier yesterday, however, Catherine Kumar, of the T&T Chamber of Commerce, and Andrew Sabga, of the TTDC, had assured the event would go on despite the uncertainty over the party leaders’ participation. Sabga said: “The debate is on. Everyone has confirmed and we are looking forward to all parties taking part in it.”
He admitted then, however, that a moderator acceptable to all the parties involved had not yet been found. “We were having some challenges getting the political parties to agree on the choice of a moderator,” Prof Rhoda Reddock, also of the TTDC, added. Reddock said 15 possible moderators had been proposed to the parties and there was no agreement. Ramkissoon, however, was finally agreed upon.
“The majority of these 15 people were from Tobago. They were people from the media, people with experience in moderating, academics, senior retired officials and people respected in Tobago and Trinidad. One party would accept the person and the other would reject him/her,” Reddock noted.
As a result of the contention, Kumar said the commission agreed to include a facilitator, who will control the timing of the debate, and questioners who will pose questions to the leaders of the political parties. “They did not agree to a single person moderating the event and asking questions too. But yes, the debate is coming off now.”
Reddock added: “I think they are just being overly cautious.” She said all plans were also in place for the debate and a production crew had already gone to Tobago to set up.
Fraser: it isn’t me
Veteran journalist Tony Fraser, a T&T Guardian columnist, said Kumar had invited him to moderate the debate but he turned her down. Fraser said he recommended some people in Tobago to Kumar, but she called him back later and said they still had not found anyone. He said he turned down the offer a second time, convinced since the debate was a Tobago event, it should be moderated by a Tobagonian.
Fraser added: “I said I would reluctantly agree if no one was found. She got back to me a third time and said they had not found anyone. I agreed but she called back and said one person accepted and the other rejected me.”
What the leaders say
Hochoy Charles, leading the Platform of Truth, said the objection to the moderator did not come from him. “I told the debate commission they could to go down in hell and find Satan and bring him up as the moderator and I will debate. I have no objection to any moderator, not even Satan. The objection is not coming from me.”
Ashworth Jack of the TOP admitted disagreement over a moderator had been a major problem in getting the debate going. “If a moderator has a clear bias we will be concerned,” he said. A fresh problem arose yesterday when Jack objected to two advertisements for the debate which appeared to suggest the THA was a sponsor of the event.
“If the THA is sponsoring the debate, it can’t be non-partisan,” he had reasoned. Jack said the T&T Chamber asked him to send a picture of himself for the advertisement and he did. “Lo and behold, I saw a picture of me in dark shades in the ad. I don’t know where that came from,” he said. There were fears Jack would pull out of the debate.
However, that matter was cleared up with CNC3 television, which placed the advertisement in the T&T Guardian. The TV station admitted it had made an error. CNC3 executive director Gabriel Faria confirmed there were inadvertent errors in the ads which had been produced by the television station and had no input from the Debates Commission. Faria assured the error would be corrected in future placements of the ad.
The commission produced a disclaimer, which appears in today’s paper, distancing itself from the ad. Jack told the T&T Guardian yesterday evening he had given the Debates Commission the assurance he would participate in the debate. Tobago PNM leader Orville London, the incumbent Chief Secretary of the THA, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
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