SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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After speculation from the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not ask for elections observers to be sent from CARICOM in time for the August 10 election, Rowley has released correspondence between himself and the Secretariat.

A series of correspondence between Rowley and CARICOM was posted on the Office of the Prime Minister’s page on Monday night.

The 16 letters also contain communication between Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses and the High Commissioners to both Canada and the UK.

The letters show that while the request was made by Rowley on July 9, the CARICOM delegation never made it to Trinidad.

In response to Rowley’s request, on July 14, Secretary-General Irwin La Rocque wrote “While there Commonwealth Secretariat would be able to meet the costs of the Observer Mission in the usual way, our current straitened financial position is such that we would not be able to provide funding to cover a fourteen-day quarantine period. I have therefore instructed my officials to discuss this matter with yours, and it would be most helpful if the Government of Trinidad and Tobago were able to offer assistance.”

On July 21, Moses reached out to Canadian High Commissioner, Kumar Gupta on WhatsApp asking for assistance in raising the funds needed. On July 27, Gupta wrote back, apologising and saying he had not received any word from his headquarters.

On July 22, La Rocque and Moses had a WhatsApp conversation where La Rocque informed Moses that only three countries- Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Saint Lucia- had responded to the calls for observers. La Rocque said CARICOM was informed the cost to quarantine one of the observers for 14 days would amount to $2500US ($16,750 TT.)

He again asked for assistance in footing the bill.

On the same day, Moses reached out to UK High Commissioner, Tim Stew, asking for assistance in raising the funds for the observers to be quarantined in Trinidad.

The next day, Stew wrote back, saying CARICOM was having difficulty raising the funds and asking if a one-day quarantine would be sufficient for the observers. Stew said if the one-day quarantine was agreed to, there would be no need for any funding.

Stew reached out to Moses on July 24, saying he had no word from London about assisting with funding but he was willing to try to work as a ‘middleman’ to see what solution could be reached to have the observers brought in for the election.

Speaking yesterday at a press conference, Rowley told the media that while he was accused of inviting the observers late, the reason they did not come was that they could not afford the quarantine.

He acknowledged that the UK and Canada had been contacted for assistance in funding the observer group.

“As far as we were concerned in dealing with the matter, with the communication that we had, our understanding was that funding the CARICOM Secretariat people was the problem, and therefore we said if we could have found someone to take up that aspect of it, then probably it would have allowed them to do what they had to do and that is why we spoke to the UK and Canada,” Rowley said.

In a media release conceding the election results yesterday, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar made reference to release of the letters.

“We remain deeply concerned, especially since the release of correspondence relating to Trinidad and Tobago’s request for independent election observers raise more questions than answers,” Persad-Bissessar wrote.

However, multiple attempts to reach Persad-Bissessar for comment on those questions were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, political analyst Dr Winford James said the Prime Minister was right to share the correspondence as he said it would put the rumours of an unfair election to rest.

However, James said Rowley should have released the letters sooner.

“When the calls for the letter to be published were made, the government should have released those letters because what they did was they allowed speculation to thrive but the letters have come out and I believe what they do is validate what the Prime Minister was saying before,” James said.