A stern warning has been issued to Tobago's political leaders to obey the public health regulations during campaigning for the December 6 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
The People's National Movement (PNM) and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) have already named their 15 candidates and begun walkabouts and virtual meetings.
Head of Tobago’s police division ACP William Nurse on Tuesday promised to do what is necessary to prevent a repeat of the disregard of the covid19 regulations during the January 25 election campaign – even if it means arresting a political leader.
Nurse said, “This speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. All you have to do is to arrest the leader in that whole scenario – lock him up because he's breaching the covid19 (laws)."
During the January campaign, PNM and PDP supporters were seen gathering in large numbers, wearing masks improperly – or not at all – and not staying six feet apart. And though police and members of the main parties' executives had encouraged supporters to adhere to covid19 guidelines during meetings, the excitement of the campaign proved too much for some. People were seen hugging, dancing, and in one instance sharing a vuvuzela from mouth to mouth.
Though many predicted an immediate spike in infections, a surge of covid19 deaths and cases in Tobago started in April, forcing the government to revert to restrictions on several sectors.
The public health regulations currently prohibit public gatherings of more than ten and the emergency powers regulations ban the consumption of alcohol in public spaces.
Nurse said their will be a zero-tolerance approach this election season.
“Let me make it clear. I was not here in January. I proceeded on leave one week before the THA election, and I don't know what my successor did or didn't do – that's not my concern. I was on vacation in Tobago.
"But I could tell you the election carded for December 6 and the campaign leading up to that election will comply as far as I am here. As far as I'm aware with the covid19 regulations…Tobago officers will further be instructed to shut down campaign trucks and end meetings if parties are found in breach of the guidelines."
Nurse said he intends to write to the leaders of the parties to schedule a meeting to reinforce the guidelines.
“...the Lord does not destroy a city without warning.
"Why am I saying that? I'm going to prepare letters, I just want to see who are the leaders, who are the persons participating in the election.“I propose to meet with all the leaders in the election – the PNM, the PDP, IDA, all of them – because the police are neutral. We are totally apolitical. I am going to let them know that this is an election as has never been conducted before. We are both in an SoE (state of emergency) and we are in a pandemic. I would appreciate their help to ensure that there are no breaches of these two conditions under which we are."
Nurse insisted that after that meeting with political parties, his officers will be instructed to uphold the law. “Anybody who is caught breaching these regulations will be prosecuted, and I'm not joking about that.”
Asked if he is concerned about making political enemies with such an approach, Nurse, who was born and grew up in Tobago, laughed, saying, “I’m certain I may make some friends.“Persons who become your enemy because you did what was right, they were never your friends. You didn't lose anything.
"When you are alone you must stand on the high moral ground, and I intend to do this. "Tobago's top cop's firm stance against political groups flouting covid19 rules comes 15 months after Newsday reported two senior cops in Tobago were being investigated for allegedly campaigning for the PNM.
A Facebook search for one of the men showed several pro-PNM messages and photos of the Prime Minister on his page.
Former CoP Gary Griffith had told Newsday, "Politics and policing don't mix.”