Tuesday, 22 May 2012 18:34
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar returned home on Tuesday from Barbados where she had been briefly hospitalised while attending the Mexico-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit on Monday.
Minister of Works, Austin “Jack” Warner, who greeted her on her arrival, told reporters that her illness was due to exhaustion and raised the issue of the appointment of a travel assistant for the head of the government.
There has been much controversy over such an appointment after the government acknowledged it had used more than TT$800,000 (US$133,330) for Vidwatie Newton, the sister of the prime minister to accompany her on several overseas trip over the past two years.
He said Prime Minister Persad Bissessar had to attend to “so many engagements” in Barbados and “did not have anybody to assist her on this occasion.
“It makes it all the more difficult for us to fully comprehend that she had to do all these things on her own. She did not have Vidwatie with her and I could not care what anybody says.
“I keep making the point that the prime minister should have somebody travelling with her as her assistant. If it is her sister so be it, if it is her cousin, so be it, but a prime minister needs somebody to travel with them...I hope this is a lesson for all of us that any prime minister should have a travel assistant”.
Earlier this month, the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) said it was referring to the Integrity Commission the use of TT$868,268.11 (US$144.711) on the travel and other arrangements for Newton after the Leader of Government Business, Dr. Roodal Moonilal acknowledged in Parliament that “the post of travel assistant to the Prime Minister is not an established post created by the Cabinet”.
But he said the funds had been spent on Newton for “airfares, hotel accommodation, meals and incidentals whilst on official overseas travel with the prime minister.
“Mrs Newton is a qualified nurse by profession. She accompanies the Honourable Prime Minister on certain overseas travel and performs related duties as well as a scheduling coordinator to ensure the prime minister’s presence and attendance at specific functions and activities,” he said.
But Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley said that the opposition was referring the matter to the Integrity Commission “so that the Commission can determine after its own investigation whether this $800,000 was properly spent with the proper authority.
“We will advance the questions, answers and the public utterances (of the Prime Minister on the matter),” he said, noting that opposition was also “confused” about the employment of Newton, whom the government first said was a travel assistant to the Prime Minister.
In March, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar defended her decision to include her sister as part of her official delegation on trips overseas, insisting that her family member is “responsible for the Prime Minister’s diet, medication, exercise, wardrobe and other health related and personal issues”.