The battle for the Chaguanas East constituency is regarded in some quarters to be a two-horse race between the country’s major political parties, the United National Congress (UNC) and the People’s National Movement (PNM).
But for Matthew Gibbs, this election represents the ideal opportunity for the Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) to put an end to the duopoly enjoyed by these two parties.
Gibbs, the PEP candidate for Chaguanas East, believes he has a better than average chance of claiming victory.
“My chances in Chaguanas East, I would say is roughly about 80 per cent judging on the people’s response in all my walks in all the communities. They’re very interested in what I have to offer.”
He said the feedback he’s been getting was absolutely positive as a lot of people were happy that they now have an option so they no longer need to serve the other two parties.
“A lot of them who served other parties came on board saying that our policies are the best policies to save them. They now have their own freedom of choice and expressing that freedom will guarantee their future and a better tomorrow.
“I am not here to point out all what went wrong. I’m here to offer how to fix what went wrong. So I would say my chances are good, but again, on election day it may be a different story.”
He knocked the two-party system that prevails in Trinidad and Tobago.
“People need to understand that the choices they’re going to make for their future should not really depend on a party, because the platforms that those parties provide are not really stable. They don’t show any form of economic diversity or anything for the future of the people or the country, in terms of investment or the agriculture sector.
“But so far, I’ve seen where the people already want a third option because statistics show that about 40 per cent of the electorate or more don’t vote depending on the constituency,” Gibbs said.
He said the high percentage of electors that abstain from voting stems from them not having other options, along with the failed systems and failed representations that we’ve had both past and present.
“So there’s room for a third option and there should be a platform where it gives everyone an equal opportunity to represent their country in the proper way. I would say yes, the duopoly should come to an end but the people need to understand their constitutional rights and they need to understand where they are, where they’ve been, and where they need to be.
Asked what he brings to the table as a relative newcomer to politics, Gibbs said: “My offer to this constituency is basically me, who I am, what I stand for and what I would like to do for everybody to enjoy, which is a better tomorrow.
“Firstly, I would like to make this constituency self-governing in every aspect as it relates to the finance of the constituency, the resources of the constituency, especially the human capital and their talents. That is what I plan to start first, digging down into that, making the constituency work as obviously we have failed infrastructure.”
He said he wants to get his people working again, not only in terms of employment but also in terms of getting rid of all the unnecessary stresses.
“I drive my constituency to work and back every day and the conditions of the roads are so deplorable. At every corner you turn is a pothole or some discrepancy with the road. That alone frustrates you. The traffic situation is a next frustration.
“I want to offer to my constituency an opportunity where they can move forward, spend time with their families, create employment because creating employment is difficult in this economically straining time.”
Gibbs said one of his major goals is that of making Chaguanas East a self-governing constituency.
“I have a plan in detail on how we can be self-governing and how we can pay taxes and get returns on our taxes. Your tax dollar will now be an investment in the community. That is what I would want to make happen, that is what I would like to see happen. Whether I win or not, I would like for somebody to take that and make it happen for the people because this would be for my country, and this election is not about me, it’s about the people.
“We have so many resources in Central that we could tap into, use them, and create a financial cycle to uplift everybody in this community. This plan that I have, one that I would like to enact, would alleviate poverty by about 80 per cent or more, if not a hundred per cent, because it will give everyone an opportunity to earn something.”
He said the best thing that can happen to the constituency is for the people to do whatever work is required within the constituency and get paid for it.
“During the COVID lockdown, had I been in a position of authority I would have started clearing the roads to the abandoned Caroni lands to offer to farmers to grow food. I would have had all the school repairs done. I would have had all the basic maintenance to infrastructure done, and this work would have been done only by the people of the constituency. Nobody from outside, no big contractors, which would now create employment and stimulate the economy of Chaguanas East and Central by extension. These are the things that I would like to offer, and whether I win the seat or not, that is what I’m going to keep fighting for because there is the opportunity to create employment and not strain the economy.”
Gibbs said he would also address the upliftment of communities starved of resources.
“Within my plan of self-governance every community in Chaguanas East, especially Enterprise, would see development.
“A lot of people refer to these places as the ghetto. That upsets me because people are people no matter where they come from. They’re all human beings, they all have emotions, and they all have feelings.
“History showed us that the leaders of this country thus far have set up things in such a way where certain communities cannot prosper, and gave them a mentality of handouts, which has now been instilled into them as part of their way of life.
“When you depend on a handout, whoever is giving you that handout you tend to do as they say, and that is unfair because it may not benefit you in the long run. It only benefits those who make those decisions, which again I say, is very unfair.
“I would like to place special attention to Enterprise and other such communities. I would like to go into those places myself and ask what the situation is.”
Gibbs said when he’s elected Member of Parliament he plans to share that power and privilege with the people.
“Any decision we make is exactly that, a decision we all make, not me. I’m just the voice between the community and Government and I intend to fight for the people. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care who you want to align yourself with and say you die-hard this or you die-hard that.
“My job is to serve the people and that is what I want to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re PNM or UNC, or you voting this and you die-hard. That don’t matter to me. In my eyes you’re a human being and if I could help you by not having a plate of food on my table and bringing it straight to you, so be it, because that is the dedication and the love I have for the people in my area.
“I grew up here. I may not have been raised in Enterprise but the fact that I grew up in Central, everybody in Central feels like family to me because I’m very well-known throughout Central. And it’s just an opportunity to really give back and make sure that the generation next will be glad about the decision they’re going to make in the next five years."
Gibbs also addressed the issue of campaign finance reform.
“In my campaign everything is coming out of my pockets. The PEP don’t want anybody coming on board to finance with the expectation of return.
“What I’ve noticed is that all political parties accept finance from whoever it may be. There’s no law in place that tells you that you have to justify where that come from. So now you see the loophole in campaign finance reform in terms of the financing of election campaigns in society.
“In fact, I could go and campaign, take money from you and I don’t have to justify that. Suppose now you want to launder money. You could finance my campaign. I win the election and now I give you back your money tenfold, clean, because there’s nothing to protect that aspect of where you get the money from or where I got the money from,” Gibbs said.
He stressed that campaign finance reform is very, very important.
"I don’t want to point fingers and say that this one does for this reason or that but maybe that could be a reason why nobody wants to have that legislation proclaimed to make it part of the law, to justify all your financing. I don’t know. But I do know you do not need to justify where you get your money from in terms of campaigning, and that is wrong. That is absolutely wrong.”
Gibbs said the PEP stands a very good chance at the election as people still have a lot of doubt, being burned so many times.
“We don’t offer promises you know. We offer solutions and policies. I ask people in my community don’t judge me, judge the policy, judge what I have to offer.”