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Dumas calls on Integrity Commission: Give reasons for Vidwatie’s ruling
Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas is calling on the Integrity Commission to publicly state its reasons for saying there was no breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act as it relates to Vidwatie Newton who has been accompanying her sister Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on overseas trips. The letter, which was signed by the commission’s registrar Martin Farrell, said: “Pursuant to Section 33 of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01, the Integrity Commission has conducted an investigation into an alleged breach of the act, to wit: Ms Vidwatie Newton, a non-employee of the State, travels on overseas trips which were financed by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Kindly be advised the commission has found no breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01 by anyone at the Office of the Prime Minister.” In April, the Opposition wrote to the Integrity Commission requesting an investigation into whether there was a breach in the Integrity in Public Life Act when the Prime Minister utilised state funds for Newton to accompany her on overseas trips.
Dumas said because of the vagueness of the letter, the general public was forced into a vacuum. “We need to know what is the justification for this and the commission has to answer,” he said. “The letter doesn’t really say anything...All the public knows is the commission has made an assessment.” He said while there might be good reasons upon which the commission made the decision, it was only right that taxpayers knew the thinking behind the decision.
Dumas said, however, he saw nothing wrong in Persad-Bissessar requiring a personal assistant, whether or not it be her sister. “The Prime Minister has argued that she needs someone to help her with her medication...I am not going to make a big fuss about that because a prime minister is entitled to a personal assistant,” he said. “But I would want to see the findings of the Integrity Commission as to why it came up with that reason.”
But the Integrity Commission has remained adamant that it would not reveal its reasons for the decision. The commission’s communications manager Mervyn Critchlow said it was the commission’s policy not to provide reasons for decisions taken. While Newton has been given the green light to continue to travel at the State’s expense, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, nevertheless, has deemed this as wrong.
In analysing the letter, Ragoonath said, it meant that no one in the PM’s office was in breach of the act. Ragoonath, in a telephone interview, said the money should be provided by the Prime Minister and not from the pockets of taxpayers. “And while the Prime Minister’s sister can go anywhere with her, the question is can she go at taxpayers expense? And that should not be, because somebody needs to be held accountable,” he said.
He said while there was nothing wrong in Persad-Bissessar’s wanting to have her sister as her personal assistant, that post must first be regularised if taxpayers must continue to foot the bill. “There are rules and procedures which must be followed regarding how public money is spent,” he said. “Should Ms Newton’s ‘employment’ continue by the State, it will have to be regularised in accordance with the rules of public officials.”
This, he said, could be simply done by way of a bill passed in Parliament which would make Newton the official personal assistant of the Prime Minister. “But in the meantime it should be the Prime Minister who should be paying for her sister’s travel expenses if she wants her to go with her on overseas trips, and not the taxpayers,” Ragoonath said.
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