Minister of Finance Colm Imbert during yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting in Parliament.

Government is giving the Election and Boundaries Commission supplemental funds of $43 million, as it is likely – and a possibility – there may be a general election before the end of this fiscal year by September 30, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said during yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting in Parliament.

The Finance Committee comprises Government and Opposition MPs. UNC MPs had questioned Government on supplementation of funds – beyond what was allocated in the 2020 Budget – for various ministries totalling $2.6 billion.

Imbert’s statements on possible timeframe for elections was the latest coming from Government. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley several weeks ago said elections would be held when due and also noted it could be anywhere up to December. More recently, he spoke in Tobago about Parliament dissolving in July. The term ends September 7 and Parliament is scheduled to prorogue by September 22 latest.

There’s People’s National Movement speculation that polls may be in mid to late August or September 7 – date of the last election in 2015. A 35-day campaign period is needed. The ruling PNM has 35 candidates and is due to complete screening for the last six areas on Saturday. The UNC has about 10 among the 39 Trinidad seats it’s contesting.

In yesterday’s Finance meeting, Imbert said EBC was receiving supplemental funding since there were Local Government polls last December and in anticipation of the “possibility” of a general election before end of the fiscal year by September 30, Government examined expenditure over the years regarding general polls. He said the administration then “came up” with the supplementary funding appropriate for the EBC.

“It’s all in the realm of possibility and taking in front as it were and making accommodation for the EBC in the possibility of an election before September 30,” he added.

Replying to UNC MP’s queries on the situation, he said it would have been routine when the 2020 Budget was delivered last year that there would be adjustment. Government’s now ensuring the EBC has enough to deal with general elections “that could come before September 30,” he added.

Imbert said the EBC will recruit up to 347 people to work as elections approach. He said this is necessary as people will have to work overtime, including all EBC worker,s “more or less.” About $20.5m will be spent to hire about 13,000 people to work on polling day and just over $1m will be spent on offices, vehicles rentals and election accommodation

“We’re in a COVID-19 situation so whatever was anticipated in October 2019 (in the Budget) regarding costs for preparing for general election must be revised in the context of social distancing and other restrictions that may occur due to the COVID pandemic,” Imbert said.

Imbert was also asked whether EBC officers are going to people’s homes to check on whether they were deceased and retrieve their ID cards. UNC’s Rudy Indarsingh said in one case, people who were asked for the cards refused to give them up and were allegedly told by EBC officers they would return with police to get the cards.

Imbert said the EBC began a field verification exercise at the end of May to ascertain deceased people. Some short term workers being hired by the EBC will be involved in field verification work between now and elections. He said most field officers are already employed and EBC will take on a few additional people “if and as required.”

On how EBC might verify voters’ addresses, Imbert said this might apply where people seek to transfer from one area to a next or a new polling division and may be asked to verify an address.

Imbert said details on various issues will be provided at tomorrow’s debate of the Finance team’s report which will become a review of the 2020 Budget. That was $53B.