CONGRESS of the People (CoP) leader, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan yesterday accused the country’s two foremost political parties of using the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a tool to confuse the population.
Seepersad-Bachan said the United National Congress (UNC) and the People’s National Movement (PNM) were playing games with the data-mining controversy, as she questioned the timing of the issue with it being reintroduced weeks ahead of the December 2 Local Government election.
The CoP in April this year had called for an investigation into the issue and Seepersad-Bachan, speaking at a press conference at the party’s St Augustine office, said yesterday had this call been heeded, the simple matter of getting to the facts would have been done by now.
Seepersad-Bachan again called for an independent investigation into claims by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, that government and other officials in Trinidad and Tobago authorised access to the private data and online activities of citizens in order to glean information on voting habits.
She said the CoP rejected any attempt to lay blame for the possible breach of citizens’ privacy at its doorstep and reminded that the party was part of a coalition government.
She said a timeline of the alleged breaches would show the persons in authority at that time who may have taken part.
She is calling for an investigation to determine those, who may have granted illegal access to private data, including public servants in state agencies.
Misbehaviour a serious crime
Seepersad-Bachan said if Wylie’s claims are true, persons in authority are guilty of the serious crime of “misbehaviour in public office”.
She said the other political parties wanted “so badly” to lay the scandal on the CoP that staff who worked with her as a former MP for San Fernando West, some as on-the-job trainees, were being contacted and asked to state that they were part of the Cambridge operation in T&T.
She told former staff being contacted to “be careful” as “no amount of money can help you out of that situation”.
Seepersad-Bachan is also questioning whether some type of investigation was done into the Cambridge issue, as she noted Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith had been cleared of any involvement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
In his blow-up book, Mindf**k: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America, Wylie claimed involvement by a T&T minister of national security.
At a PNM Local Government election meeting at Signature Hall, Chaguanas, Tuesday night, Rowley read details of a letter to him from Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi, effectively clearing Griffith. Seepersad-Bachan now wants to know whether an investigation was done that cleared the COP and what were its overall results.
She also saw it as “very unfortunate” that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had on Monday dismissed the scandal, saying, “Who the hell really cares.”
The CoP has also claimed that some of its intended candidates in the upcoming December 2 local government election were “bought off” before they could register.
Party chairman, Lonsdale Williams, issued a warning to those seeking to upset the election through bribery that some persons are willing to record any such attempts and the material will be forwarded to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
Williams claimed the party had been informed that bribes as low as $300 were also being used by political opponents to secure votes.
Asking citizens in those constituencies to consider their worth, Williams said this amounted to some 27 cents a day to favour a vote.
Williams said the CoP was ready to present 18 candidates up to the day before registration for the election.
However, eight candidates had been lost by Nomination Day last Monday.
“We have been told that our candidates were being offered money not to contest the LGE (local govt election),” Williams claimed, declining to mention any names. He said one candidate also withdrew after registering and the party could not say how many of the “fallen” eight may have accepted money.
Williams and political leader of the CoP, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, warned that any recordings of attempted bribes would be shared not only with the TTPS but also with the media. Seepersad-Bachan raised concerns that promises by the Government to address campaign finance reform through legislation had not materialised with another general election due next year.
She said taxpayers’ money was always involved where corrupt practices were concerned and warned citizens to think carefully before voting in the local election. The CoP has presented ten candidates for the upcoming polls.