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Thursday 15 November 2018
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Too much red tape

Diego Martin Central is now a constituency of major interest in the upcoming general election mainly because of the contention surrounding the People’s National Movement’s (PNM’s) selection of a candidate to contest the poll and the concerns raised by some about the party’s screening process within the past few weeks.

Constituency sources yesterday told Sunday Newsday that the party’s screening committee has never had such difficulty in selecting a candidate for the region, which has long been considered a PNM safe seat.

In fact, for the third time tomorrow, several new faces will face the screening committee after the original nominees, including incumbent Dr Amery Browne, were rejected on April 2.

When Sunday Newsday contacted members of the constituency’s executive yesterday, officials adopted a hands-off approach regarding the nominees whose names were submitted on Friday..

Chairman Osbond Charles would only say that the nominees are to be screened tomorrow at Balisier House in Port-of-Spain.

Vice-chairman Irene Hinds said she was in Tobago for the Jazz Festival and could not say whose names were submitted.

Sunday Newsday understands, though, that attorney Barry Ishmael and activist Gordon Paul were among those seeking to be chosen as candidates.

However, sources said there was a strong possibility that Browne, who has represented the constituency since 2007, could be retained as the candidate if the screening committee rejects the latest batch of nominees following tomorrow’s exercise.

Browne, a former Minister of Social Development, has declined comment on the issue.

“Look at what happened in Tunapuna. Esmond Forde was selected after two rounds of screening and Barry Lochan after several rounds of screening in Cumuto/Manzanilla,” a constituency official told Sunday Newsday.

“So, it is very likely that consideration can be given to those who were in the first round of screening, if the committee is not pleased with this last batch.”

Although the PNM won the Diego Martin Central seat handsomely in the May 2010 general election, it still lost some ground when compared to its performance in the 2007 poll.

In the 2007 election, Browne, the incumbent, got 9,301 votes in comparison to the Congress of the People’s (COP’s) 5,589 votes. Steve Alvarez, who, at that time, represented the United National Congress-Alliance (UNC-A) got just 582 votes.

Three years later, in the May 2010 general election, Browne again won the seat, albeit by a smaller margin.

Browne received 9,040 votes, defeating his closest rival, COP’s Nicole Dyer-Griffith by just over 1,000 votes. Dyer-Griffith got 8,041 votes while another candidate, Nigel Telesford, of the New National Vision, got 145 votes.

Despite the loss of support in 2010, history has shown that opposing political parties still have not been able to gain much headway in the constituency, except when the late Leo Des Vignes won the seat on a National Alliance For Reconstruction (NAR) ticket in the 1986 general election.

Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Darryl Smith, who was a nominee in the original round of screenings for Diego Martin Central, is again hoping to be given a shot at the candidacy following tomorrow’s exercise.

He attributed the loss of PNM support in the 2010 election to the “negativity” that had surrounded former Prime Minister Patrick Manning ahead of the poll.

“Sad to say, the people were misguided,” Smith charged, referring to United National Congress-led People’s Partnership, which formed the government after the election.

Smith recalled that the PNM also had not fared well in the Local Government election in 2010. The party won just three of the ten electoral districts in the corporation.

“But now, we have all ten electoral districts, including some polling stations that we have never won,” he said.

Smith, who became chairman in November 2013, was among four persons who had offered themselves as possible candidates during the party’s screening for the constituency at Balisier House on April 2.

On that occasion, all of the candidates, including Browne, the incumbent, were rejected and fresh nominations were requested of the constituency’s executive.

But, they too, were turned down. Those appearing during the second round of screenings were panman Roger Watts, human resources professional Shari Reynald and lawyer Christian Chandler.

The committee again requested fresh nominations for which last Friday was given as the deadline for submissions.

According to Smith, crime, unemployment, housing and flooding are the major issues confronting the constituency.

However, regarding the latter, which has been the bane of the constituency for many years, Smith claimed that under his watch, the corporation has virtually eliminated flooding from the region through its Hands On Deck initiative, which began during last year’s dry season.

‘We have adopted a proactive approach by clearing all drains and river courses,” he said. “And for the first time in eight years, there has been no flooding in the region.”

Part of a vast, urban commercial destination, comprising three constituencies, Diego Martin Central consists of several well-known districts, including Petit Valley, Diamond Vale, Cocorite, Blue Range, Alyce Glen and Four Roads, a thriving business and residential region, with more than 110, 000 residents and 32,000 households. Diego Martin Central has an electorate of about 27,000 voters.

Among its past representatives in the Parliament were Dr Joseph Laquis and the late Kenneth Valley. In fact, Browne, who had replaced Valley in the screening prior to the 2007 general election, amidst much dissatisfaction from constituents, has now found himself in a similar position eight years later.

On the search for a candidate, La Puerta resident Colin Miles said the party’s screening process was overdone.

“I don’t know why there is all this red tape,” he told Sunday Newsday. While he had no major concerns with Browne’s representation over the past seven years, Miles said he was supporting Smith.

“To me, it is automatic because he has done a lot in the constituency and from what I have seen, he is very proactive and forward-thinking,” he said.

“The past chairmen that we had were very reactive, particularly in the area of flooding and other issues.” Nicole Dyer-Griffith, who got the nod of the COP to contest the seat in 2007 and 2010, said she had no intention of re-entering the fray on an Alliance of Independents (AI) ticket.

“Not me, but perhaps the Alliance will consider contesting the seat. We are just awaiting word from the Elections and Boundaries Commission,” she said. Dyer-Griffith, one of the founders of the fledgling AI, said the party was interested in contesting the seat.

“It is all systems go. We have been holding our cottage meetings and that is definitely one of the seats we will be considering,” she said.

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