A disclosure by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal during Friday’s Parliament sitting cannot be easily overlooked heading, as we are, into a general election. As he spoke during debate on the Mid-Year Review, Mr Moonilal pointed to two lists dated May 15 and June 5 which revealed inequalities in the distribution of State-sponsored COVID-19 relief hampers between United National Congress and People's National Movement operatives.
According to the MP, 50 hampers were sent to the UNC Siparia MP’s office in May but another set was also sent to the Siparia Community Centre for a PNM member. The same, he said, happened in Pointe-a-Pierre, Princes Town and Cumuto-Manzanilla – 50 sent to the UNC MP’s office, another 50 for PNM members to distribute.
However, in the case of San Fernando West, 100 hampers were sent to PNM MP Faris Al-Rawi but none were sent for the UNC to hand out. Mr Moonilal claimed the same held for the June 5 list – 50 hampers for the UNC Naparima MP and 50 for the PNM office. He told the House this was the trend in all UNC constituencies.
However, Mr Moonilal said in PNM-held constituencies like Diego Martin, Port-of-Spain North, St Ann’s West and Laventille East-Morvant, only the PNM offices received hampers. None was given to UNC operatives to distribute.
This unequal delivery, if true, suggests an unfair use of state funds for electioneering, which must be condemned in the strongest possible manner.
Following Mr Moonilal's claims, one would have expected a firm denial or, at least, clarification from the next PNM MPs to join the debate. However, neither Stuart Young nor Colm Imbert, who were the last two PNM MPs to speak during the debate, touched the topic.
How can the Government justify the distribution of hampers paid for by taxpayers in a manner that gives its party even the slightest advantage in an election year?
While we agree it’s the Government’s prerogative to choose its distribution channel, be it through MPs, Local Government or State bodies, it must be a process done on a basis of equality.
If this were not done, it meant PNM operatives found a chance to present themselves favourably to voters in UNC-held districts, without UNC operatives having a fair chance to do the same in PNM-held areas.
The Government ought to explain why this transpired, particularly as the Prime Minister himself addressed the issue during recent debate on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2020. We wish to remind the Prime Minister of his exact words in Parliament on May 8, 2020, during debate: “The current law does not regulate an incumbent government’s access to state resources before and during an election campaign period. This loophole allows an opportunity to supplement a candidate’s resources with State resources.”
It's now for the Prime Minister to say if this was not an exploitation of that very same loophole.