Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar vowed to take legal action to undo the appointment of Fern Narcis-Scope as chief elections officer on several grounds of alleged unsuitability, she told a United National Congress meeting on Monday at St Helena Hindu Primary School.
“We are putting together papers to challenge the appointment of this person,” Persad-Bissessar said without naming Narcis-Scope. “We are in the process of drafting proceedings. I have serious reservations with the person appointed.”
She alleged that Narcis-Scope was a relative of a government minister (alleged to be Public Administration Minister Maxie Cuffie), although that had been denied by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC.)
Persad-Bissessar alleged Narcis-Scope did not have eight years of experience in managing electoral affairs, as required for the post in the public advertisement posted by the EBC. Persad-Bissessar alleged that Narcis-Scope had been the EBC’s senior legal officer when the EBC extended polling hours during the 2015 general election, a move ruled illegal by both the High Court and Appeal Court. Alluding to even further unsuitability, Persad-Bissessar also said Narcis-Scope was the person who gave legal advice to the EBC to spend millions of dollars in legal fees in court to defend its extension of polling hours.
“Did the Public Services Commission (PSC) bypass more experienced people to give the chief elections officer this position?” asked Persad-Bissessar. She said the post had attracted 44 applicants. She also alleged Narcis-Scope was a poor choice by the PSC, as she was not a public officer with security of tenure, but instead a contract officer who could be hired and fired at whim and fancy (and by implication be more susceptible to political pressures).
“It is a matter of great concern to us in this party. We look for the utmost integrity and independence in a chief elections officer.”
Persad-Bissessar hit the Government on its finance bills presented by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, saying the Opposition had forced many amendments to the FATCA Bill (under which TT must report the earnings of US citizens to the US authorities) including not having the Finance Minister oversee all the financial details of private citizens. She teased, “Next thing he find out you have a yacht and a Mustang (car) like him and he get jealous and send the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) to look for you.”
Likewise Persad-Bissessar opposed too much control for the Finance Minister under the TT Revenue Authority (TTRA). She said the TTRA Bill was dangerous because it sought to replace the BIR with the TTRA headed by a board appointed by the minister, who also named a CEO.
“So it is a member of the political directorate controlling the show. All the assets you have to declare is going to the Minister of Finance.” Illustrating such concerns, she bemoaned that former Central Bank governor Jwala Rambaran had spoken once as a temporary Opposition senator and the next day found himself under investigation.
While saying she would not use the event for her campaign for re-election as United National Congress (UNC) leader, Persad-Bissessar urged the party to unite as its best chance for taking office in upcoming elections. “Every election when we were divided, we lost,” she related of the UNC’s political history.