Economist Dr Vanus James is of the view that the PNM’s reason why Tobagonians should not vote for PDP’s Tobago East candidate Watson Duke is “bogus.”
On Monday, James referred to statements made one week ago by the Prime Minister indicating that Tobagonians should not vote for Duke because he is "on a criminal charge and should not be offering himself for Parliament."
Duke is the Tobago House of Assembly's (THA) Minority Leader – a position he won and has held since 2017 when he contested the THA election. The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) contested all 12 electoral districts but were only successful with Roxborough/ Delaford and L’Anse Fourmi/ Charlotteville/ Speyside.
“I remember Rowley on the PNM platform in 2017 when Watson won the seat and they were saying that they were happy to get 10-2," James said.
"He said 'We will take the 10-2, we didn’t get all 12 but we’ll take 10-2'.
“If Rowley was so concerned that being on a charge disqualifies you from being a representative, he would have mentioned it then and, much more importantly, he would have changed the law.
“He is the Prime Minister. He could go to the Parliament – he needs only a simple majority. Change the THA Act and say that nobody could be a representative in the THA if they’re on a charge."
James said the Representation of the People's Act also does not prohibit someone on a criminal charge from running for political office.
"You could be on a murder charge and still run for office. Rowley had four years to change this law… he did nothing about it.”
When contacted, the party’s public relations officer, Zorisha Hackett, said the law presumes Duke’s innocence and makes him an eligible candidate. She said the PDP has remained consistent in this position.
“He...would be allowed to function as any other member of the party save and except a court of law proves otherwise.
“Further, this is all indicative of how broken our judicial system is. How can it be considered justice for someone to be accused and be dragged through the judicial system for such a long time without any clear direction? Is that individual to put his life and aspirations on hold until then? What if he is proven not guilty after all this time? Who compensates him for his tarnished name?"
Hackett said it is for those reasons the party’s position has been that Duke be allowed his constitutional right to serve.
PDP deputy political leader and THA Minority Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael expressed her support for her political leader.
“Mr Duke qualifies to be a candidate in this election and obviously he was qualified to contest the 2017 THA Elections.”