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While PNM spends $5m, TOP’s big-money campaign nears $20m
The Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) racked up a multimillion-dollar campaign bill in the hotly-contested Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election. This compared to the $5 million the People’s National Movement (PNM) spent leading up to the January 21 polls. While no direct figure has been given, it is estimated that TOP’s campaign tab more than tripled the PNM’s.
Told on Friday that TOP had reportedly spent $20 million in campaigning, defeated Mason Hall/Providence/Moriah candidate and TOP leader Ashworth Jack refused to confirm or disclose the party’s campaign purse, stating that it was one issue political parties held close to their chests.
“I could finally laugh today. The PNM should stay out of TOP business,” Jack said. He said after every election, questions of how much the losing party spent always arise but which they never disclose. “Nobody is saying that we owe. We are not asking anybody to pay our bills. It was no way close to $20 million,” Jack insisted. Jack said it was the PNM, and not the TOP, that went on a spending spree to muster votes.
TOP pumped $2.7 million into advertising
Investigations by Sunday Guardian revealed that TOP had spent some $2.7 million in total media advertising, while the PNM spent some $1.5 million. TOP distributed 44 per cent of its advertisements to television stations, with print being allocated 42 per cent. Radio received the least, with 14 per cent.
The PNM, on the other hand, gave its largest share of advertising to print with 52 per cent, followed by radio with 27 per cent. Television obtained 21 percent. In the three daily newspapers, the Sunday Guardian counted 155 full-page colour advertisements that were placed from December 27 last year to January 20 by TOP, with PNM trailing with 88 ads.
Two advertising agencies, Ross Advertising and Pepper Advertising, handled TOP’s ads, while the PNM managed its own. In one of the daily newspapers, not the T&T Guardian, a full-page advertisement on weekends was priced at $9,375 plus VAT. On weekdays it costs $8,220 VAT exclusive. A 30 per cent charge was also applicable if the customer wanted the ad placed on a preferred page.
A perusal of TV6’s rate card showed that a 30-second ad on prime time listed two prices. The prime time slot in category 1 is priced at $2,640 plus VAT, with category 2 going for less. On Tuesday, Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon, during her contribution to the debate in the House of Representatives, claimed that $35 million was used to fund the TOP’s THA campaign. National Security Minister Jack Warner denied this.
Among the things
TOP spent $$ on:
• Entertainers to perform at political meetings, which ranged between $3,000 to $5,000 a gig. Among some of the artistes who performed were Kyle Baptiste, Gardah Knight, Sizzla Kalonji, Baby Cham, Sugar Aloes, Edwin Ayoung, Denise Belfon, Swappi and Roy Cape
• Soundtracks used for the party’s campaign and political meetings
• Printing of the party’s 26-page manifesto
• Paraphernalia such as t-shirts, buttons, clips, gift bags, shades, cups, flyers, posters of candidates, horns, bunting, flags, banners, car accessories, and whistles
• Rental of LED screens
• Rental of maxi taxis, music trucks and other vehicles
• Rental of Canoe Bay Resort, which was used as a party base
• Photos of Jack and his 11 candidates emblazoned on minivans
• Crews hired to design, distribute and pin up flyers and posters
• Food and drinks
Last November, THA Leader Orville London accused TOP of “willy-nilly distribution” of 150 government food cards to undeserving recipients in villages in Tobago. London said the food card distribution was a ploy being used to win votes for the People’s Partnership coalition partner, TOP, in the election. The cards were distributed by Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh.
Ramadharsingh had also informed citizens of Tobago that hampers, grants to fix homes, electrification of communities, water connections, could all be arranged “today” through the National Social Development Programme, an agency under his ministry. Millions were reportedly pumped into Tobago through this ministry, a well-placed source said.
Speaking at Old Market Square on January 18, Jack (Ashworth) said the PNM had accused them of bringing into the country 10,000 BlackBerry phones and distributing ten truckloads of food to muster votes. Jack scoffed at the allegations.
Movement for Social Justice political leader David Abdulah, prior to the election, said that the huge expenditure by the TOP on media ads, other election materials and inducements were “not within the TOP’s financial capacity” and it was “obvious that the UNC and its financiers were behind this big money campaign.”
Abdulah suggested that there was urgent need for “tight legislation” governing party financing, adding there was “much talk in the public domain about contractors and other service suppliers having to give back ten per cent or more of the value of contracts to party and/or government officials.”
James: PP hijacked TOP campaign
Political analyst Dr Winford James said the money spent by TOP was an effort to win the minds and souls of Tobagonians, but failed spectacularly despite the huge investments. “It showed that people were interested in other matters and not what they were offering.” Given the wretched record of the PP Government, James said, Tobagonians sent a strong message by rejecting the party.
“It did not matter how much money TOP had spent. Money could not help them. They could not win over Tobagonians by spending money and giving away gifts.” Tobagonians, James said, could not be bought. James said it was clear that the PP had hijacked Jack’s campaign. “Their (PP) signature was very clear, coupled with the fact that Jack himself was a liability in terms of his accusation of his wealth.”
James said it would be difficult to say if the TOP would weaken, given the amount of money they had put out with no returns to show. “Obviously, they have money. The question is whether they have credibility in terms of their relationship with the people and voters.”
PNM chairman: TOP’s philosophy—money can buy anything
PNM Tobago’s public relations officer Denise Tsoi-a-Fatt-Angus confessed the party spent $5 million on the campaign. “We are yet to determine the precise figure, but that was the sum we budgeted and worked with. Our finances were limited so we had to come up with a different strategy to win the election.”
Tsoi-a-Fatt-Angus said the majority of the party funds did not go into advertising, but drafting, printing and distributing its 60-page manifesto. In 2009, Tsoi-a-Fatt-Angus said the PNM fought the election with $2 million. Chairman of the PNM Franklin Khan admitted that the party was faced with cash-flow problems for its toughest election ever.
Khan said for every ten banners the TOP purchased, the PNM had one, stating that they were outnumbered in more ways than one. He said one week before the election, TOP had already booked all the prime advertising space in the media, which did not go down well with Tobagonians. “The philosophy of the TOP was that money could buy anything. This certainly did not work in its favour.”
Khan said the money TOP had injected into the campaign “was one they could not have raised. So obviously it came from the UNC.” Khan said every election political parties call for legislation on party financing.
“The PNM in principle is in support of legislation. As to what form it will take, this is a matter that needs to be discussed by all political parties in the country because we cannot have a free-for-all during election campaigning. As the saying goes—who have more corn will feed more fowl.” A message left on Deryck Murray’s cellphone, chairman of Transparency International of T&T was not returned.
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