Close to half of the housing units built between 2003-2009 were constructed in Opposition strongholds. The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) constructed 6,758 houses in areas with heavy Opposition support, statistics provided by the agency showed. This figure accounts for 44 per cent of the 15,394 housing units constructed by the Government during that period. Among the Opposition strongholds where HDC houses are concentrated are St Augustine, Caroni Central and Oropouche East. PNM strongholds received almost the same amount of houses–with 6,766 units being constructed in that area, but topped the list of recipients with eight more houses being built in those areas. This figure accounts for some 44 per cent of houses in area where PNM has solid support.
In the areas designated as marginals, based on the last election results, 1,870 houses were constructed. This accounts for 12 per cent of Government's housing stock. Some of the constituencies considered marginal are Tunapuna, Mayaro, Barataria/San Juan, and St Joseph. Opposition MPs, meanwhile, are claiming that the majority of houses did not go to their constituents, and are charging that it's a clear case of voter-padding through housing allocations. Although in the marginal constituencies the number of units built were much smaller than those in the PNM and Opposition constituencies, the Opposition is claiming that only a small number of votes is required to make a difference in favour of the Government if an election is called.
The information on Government's housing stock and its location was supplied by the HDC, in response to a Sunday Guardian special investigation on allegations of voter padding. HDC data does not include houses built prior to 2003, but the agency said these figures were unverified, as an audit of its physical housing stock was underway. On March 16, Prime Minister Patrick Manning said HDC's housing application data-base totalled 138,000, while only 27,000 houses were built. Elections and Boundaries Commission's chairman Howard Cayenne, in an address to the nation last Sunday, said the thousands of houses constructed contributed to a pattern of constant internal migration.
He said this had resulted in a failure of large numbers of voters to be properly registered. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said last week that she feared supporters might be taken from PNM strongholds and transferred to marginal constituencies via government housing. But on Wednesday night, HDC's managing director Jearlean John, counteracted this, claiming there was no voter-padding in the corporation's housing programme. Between April and June, John said, an estimated 7,902 applicants would be able to move into their homes in areas such as Morvant, San Fernando and Couva. Another 3,092 homes would also be ready between July and December, this year.
Outsiders taking over
Several Opposition MPs endorsed Persad-Bissesar's claims. St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath said he had no doubt voter-padding was occurring. In St Augustine, a UNC stronghold, 1,344 units were delivered over the last six years. "I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind. That is exactly what it is. That's the intention of it." He claims the Government's plan has been to crowd the marginal and Opposition constituencies with people from "outside" who potentially can vote for the Government.
1. In Caroni Central, Hamza Rafeeq's constituency, 2,511 units were built. A member of the constituency office said as far as they knew, few members received houses in the developments. Residents told the Sunday Guardian they felt it was unfair that they applied for HDC houses and did not succeed. They also claimed that those who got houses in Carlsen Field development were strangers to the area.
2. In Oropouche East,1,097 units were built. MP Roodal Moonilal said, "The allocation of those units has remained a complete mystery to me." He said while he was invited to turn the sod to begin construction of the units, he was not invited to the distribution of the houses. "To my knowledge, the persons who are there are not constituents of mine. No constituent of mine who I have recommended has been privileged to receive a unit in their own constituency. "It leaves a lot of suspicion for persons to infer that the allocations of units are done by some means which may be irregular and predetermined." He also said the Government had changed its own policy in accepting recommendations from MPs, which he said changed when Dr Keith Rowley left the Ministry of Housing. "While we recommend persons who are deserving, we are not sure they are considered," he said.
1. In the marginal constituency of Mayaro, MP Winston Peters said the majority of his constituents did not receive houses. And those who lived in housing developments were few in number. He said people who lived in the units were "from all over the place." Asked about allegations of voter-padding, he said: "That's primarily what they are doing." He said houses were strategically-placed so that they could be given to people who supported them. "It ain't have no lottery. They giving who ever it is."
Tilting the balance?
In the marginal constituencies, 1,870 units were constructed.
Constituency No of units
San Fernando West 275
Barataria/San Juan 130
Chaguanas East 0
Princes Town South/Tableland 93
St Joseph 784
Though the number of units built in the marginals was much smaller in comparison to Opposition and Government "territory," Bharath said only a smaller number of votes was required to tilt the balance. He said in some of those marginal constituencies, the seats were won by 300 to 400 votes. Votes received by PNM, UNC and the Congress of the People(COP), in the National General Elections in 2007 in the marginal constituencies:
Constituency PNM UNC COP
Mayaro 8,133 8,583 1,936
St Joseph 7,965 4,945 4,145
Pointe-a-Pierre 7,427 6,136 3,740
Barataria/S Juan 7,179 5,358 3,917
Chaguanas East 6,757 4,993 4,086
Sando West 7,371 2,306 4,951
Tunapuna 8,468 3,823 4,004
P Town South 7,823 573 3,141
A lot of talk – Gronlund-Nunez
Tina Gronlund-Nunez, Minister in the Ministry of Housing, Planning and the Environment, denied voter-padding allegations. "There's a lot of talk going around," she told the Sunday Guardian. She said the allocation system did not recognise constituencies. Gronlund-Nunez said applicants were required to state where they would like to live. She claimed that what came out in the lottery system was the size of your family and how long you has applied.
Number of houses/percentage in PNM, Opposition and Marginal seats:
Opposition seats 6,758 44 per cent
PNM seats 6,766 44 per cent
Marginal seats 1,870 12 per cent