…Says some pocketed US$1000 contingency allowance
By Kiana Wilburg
In his efforts to solve unsettled matters and clean up what has been described as the financial mess left behind by the previous administration, Finance Minister, Winston Jordan issued a stern warning to all former ministers to have their travel advances cleared or else he will be forced to take drastic action to recover it.
Jordan made this declaration yesterday during a press conference which was held at the Ministry of Finance.
“I should tell you that we have considerable problems recovering advances for travel in the past generally and part of this problem stems from a significant number of former ministers who have not cleared past advances. Some of them haven’t cleared advances that are at least one year old. So if they are listening, I am urging them to please come to the Treasury and clear all their advances lest I instruct the Accountant General to take drastic action to recover it.”
This matter actually came to the front burner as he addressed two burning issues.
The Finance Minister said that he was disturbed by two erroneous articles which were published in another section of the print media.
Noting that his patience has run out, he referred to an article which claimed that the Granger administration is making moves to boost by 60 percent, the per diem and other benefits for its officials and ministers when they travel abroad for state business.
The Minister said that the details of the article not only border on libel, but brings his integrity into question as well as his staff, as the article boasts of having “well-placed sources” in his Ministry.
Jordan recalled that the said article with the headline, “Govt. to increase travelling “per diem” allowances” claimed that “The Minister is said to be favourably considering increasing the per diem from US$215 per day to about US$500 per day as far as the out-of-pocket allowance was concerned.”
The Minister said, “That particular one made me choke on my coffee because it was so absurd and outrageous. Any decent editor would not even bother to investigate or print it. I don’t see how an out-of-pocket allowance can move from US$215 to US$500 a day. That’s the absurdity of the day.”
The next fallacy he dealt with was the claim that government was also considering raising the allowance offered for hotel accommodation to approximately US$200 per day. The article indicated that under the previous government, ministers and officials were only entitled to US$150 per day.
The Finance Minister also pointed out that the newspaper also claimed that government was considering increasing the allowance allotted for meals from US$100 to US$200. He dismissed this as another erroneous assertion.
He went on to say that the newspaper reported that government was also making moves to implement a US$3000 contingency allowance for ministers and advisors and stressed that this never existed under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Jordan said that there is no such document being considered that involves any of the aforementioned allegations.
The Finance Minister explained that when the PPP entered office in 1992, it changed the allowance rates to suit the expenses of travel to various places. He explained for example, that the cost to travel to Europe is more than the airfare for a Caribbean territory.
He then shared with the media, a document which showed the rates existing as of May 18, 1993. It showed that when a Minister who was considered a Category A person, was travelling to the Caribbean or North America, he or she would receive a travel allowance of US$200 per night for hotel accommodation while the allowance for travel to Europe was US$250.
Officials, who fell into the Category B status such as Permanent Secretaries and a similar level, received US$150 if they were travelling to North America and US$200 if they were going to Europe.
The Finance Minister continued, “Other things you would get would be the US$25 out-of-pocket allowance. Both categories also received US$100 for meals. So a Minister going to North America was given US$200 plus US$100 for meals plus the US$25 out-of-pocket allowance which gives a total of US$325. An official going the same way receives a total of US$275.”
He then provided additional evidence to prove that the allowances of a former minister were not guided by the aforementioned rates.
Jordan distributed to the media, a document reflecting a decision by the previous cabinet to amend the rates on October 2, 2014. It showed that Dr. Ashni Singh, a former Finance Minister, received $355 per night for hotel accommodation for six nights in Washington D.C, USA. The official accompanying him, Chief Planning officer, Clyde Roopchand was given the same rates as Dr. Singh.
The Finance Minister said, “The official should have been getting US$150 and was getting more than double with US$355 per night. I am not knocking them, but the rates can only be made as a guide. You can’t at the level of cabinet have moving rates and justification should have been brought for that.”
Jordan reiterated that no minister of the current government has been granted any contingency allowance.
He continued, “I can tell you, I have travelled with ministers in the past government who were given US$1000 contingency for a specific purpose and when they didn’t carry out that purpose, they actually pocketed the money. In other words, it was not returned to the Treasury. I can name specific instances, but it is not my style.”
As for the accusations made by the offending newspaper, Jordan said that it may very well get the opportunity to test its assertions in the court of law as he has referred the matter to his lawyers.
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