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Senator under salary probe by Health Ministry
Independent Senator Dr Victor Wheeler, who has vociferously complained about the financial troubles of the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA), is now the centre of an investigation by the Ministry of Health into alleged duplicate payments made to him after his contract on secondment to the hospital ended.
While Wheeler cannot explain why his contract was not renewed in August 2009, he said any query about payments should be about what is owed to him, not what he has earned. Official documents obtained by Sunday Guardian show that Wheeler's secondment as a specialist medical officer at the TRHA ended on July 15, 2007. He resumed duties as acting medical director of the TRHA on January 2, and July 15, 2007.
During this time he also held the substantive post of registrar at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital (PoSGH). However, according to payroll records at the TRHA, Wheeler continued to be paid $41,017 a month, inclusive of allowances, for the periods January 2-February 28, 2007 and July 15, 2007 to January 2009. He also received a salary as registrar of $11,777, cost of living allowance of $125 and professional allowance of $3,000.
Claims of duplicate payment under query
While it was noted that Wheeler was short-paid in some instances due to wage negotiations and a mix-up in his salary range as registrar, the payments have raised concerns. A September 4 memo from the office of the permanent secretary to the heads of institutions at TRHA and PoSGH sought urgent clarification of the matter.
The memo was attached to a letter from assistant project co-ordinator Feroza Kalloo, who raised queries about the payments. “There is evidence on the copies of pay records at the TRHA that Wheeler continued to be paid $41,017 per month. There seems to be a duplication of payment for the periods January 2 to February 28, 2007 and July 15, 2007 to January 2009. Please request the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to clarify this matter.
“A breakdown and details are requested for the sum of payment of $41,017 paid per month and arrears paid in October 2007 and October 2008 in the sums of $366,667 and $168,400 by the TRHA to Dr Wheeler.” The TRHA has been asked to give a breakdown and details of the payment of $263,851 made in May 2009 for the period July 15, 2007 to September 26, 2008.
Relating to the PoSGH, payment records showed salary, COLA and professional allowance were not paid to Wheeler from July 15 to 31, 2007. However, according to the hospital records, Wheeler, who resumed duties as the acting medical director on July 15, was paid on call/consultation, special incentive, guaranteed overtime 20 hours, administrative allowance and Tobago duty allowance as a registrar during this period.
Pay records at the PoSGH, the letter said, showed that in July 2010, Wheeler was paid $63,597.92 for 83 working days.
Wheeler: They owe me
When contacted, Wheeler expressed surprise at the discrepancies and insisted that he was underpaid on several occasions and is still owed money. He said when he broke his contract with the TRHA to act as hospital medical director, he took a salary cut of more than $5,000 a month.
“I am not receiving any pension from the ministry, mainly because there are outstanding matters with the TRHA. I am an independent senator and some of the issues I have raised have not been all complimentary,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler claimed he is still owed money for services at the TRHA: "I accepted a position as consultant with the TRHA on secondment on November 1, 1996. I continued in that substantive position as consultant with the TRHA while I remained a house officer in the public service on secondment.
“In December 2006 the then hospital medical director fell sick and took emergency leave. At that time it was determined I was the most senior public servant in Tobago, because from 1996 to 2007, I was promoted to the post of registrar in the public service—substantive position in PoSGH, still on secondment with the Tobago Regional Health Authority.”
Wheeler said he was told that as part of his terms and conditions he would have to terminate his contract at TRHA to act as hospital medical director. “On January 2, 2007 when I terminated my contract with the TRHA, I was informed I had outstanding vacation leave amounting to 150-170 days.
I had the option of being paid for my outstanding vacation leave, which at the time amounted to thousands of dollars, or instead receive a lump sum. I continued to receive a month’s salary until my vacation days were used up.”
Wheeler said he chose to accept the salary, which would have been for January and February 2007. “Even though they gave me a salary for that time it was really payment for vacation days that the TRHA owed me. “At the time they even told me that they could not afford to pay all the vacation time that I had inside because they were going through some financial pressures.”
As hospital director Wheeler said he performed the duties of both hospital medical director and consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology. Contacted for comment, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said the matter was being looked into.
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