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Two PSs take off
Two permanent secretaries have gone Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL). The Sunday Guardian has learned that Sport PS Ashwin Creed and Tourism PS Juliana Johan-Boodram have both left their ministries without following proper communication protocol and, as such, no one has been put in place to act on their behalf. The lack of communication means that there are no accounting officers on the job, leaving the ministries rudderless. It also means that no payments can be authorised or approved.
The Sunday Guardian was informed that both Creed and Johan-Boodram could face disciplinary action from the Public Service Commission (PSC) for leaving the country without proper authorisation. Creed has been absent from his job for almost a month. He was expected back on the job on May 26, as his authorised leave ended on May 23. Johan-Boodram, meanwhile, left the country to go to Argentina to watch the football match between T&T and Argentina.
Up until the time the photographs of her surfaced on June 5, head of the Public Service/PS to the Prime Minister Reynold Cooper was unaware she was away from the job. Cooper was also in the dark as to whether Creed was back on the job or not. The Sunday Guardian checked with staff at the Ministry of Sport and was informed that Creed had not been back at his office for some time, and they were unsure when he would be returning.
“He is on vacation until next week, we think,” said the person who answered the office line on Friday. An automated voice recording at Creed’s office at the ministry stated his mailbox was full.
No one was assigned by me—Howai
Finance Minister Larry Howai, in an e-mail exchange, said no one was appointed to act as accounting officer at either of the ministries. “We have not made those appointments to which you refer as we have not yet received the approval of the PSC,” he said. “That means that the relevant ministry didn’t make a request of the PS to the PM (Cooper),” he said.
Howai explained that the process is that the Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister (Cooper) assigns the officer and then the Minister of Finance and the Economy (MoFE) makes the appointment on the basis of that assignment. “The MoFE cannot appoint someone without that input from the PS to the PM. The appointment, however, only takes place after receiving the authorisation of the Public Service Commission (PSC) who acts on the recommendations of the Director of Public Administration (DPA),” he said.
While Johan-Boodram’s absence was explained by the Argentinian football friendly, there has been no reason forthcoming for Creed’s prolonged absence. It was initially reported that Cooper said Creed sought emergency leave from April 14 to 22, was in China from April 28 to 30 on official business, and then took ordinary vacation leave from May 15 to 23.
Creed has been out of the country for the past 16 days—without applying for further leave—even though he is currently embroiled in an audit by the Finance Ministry’s Central Audit Unit into the multimillion-dollar spending of the Life Sport programme. He reportedly received death threats in connection with the programme.
Cooper: No PS must go on leave without authorisation
Cooper, in a telephone interview Friday, said as far as he was aware, Johan-Boodram was supposed to be in the country as no application for leave, vacation or time away came before him or Cabinet. He said he was aware that her line minister, Gerald Hadeed, had sought and gained Cabinet approval to attend the game in Argentina, but said Johan-Boodram did not have that approval. Hadeed, however, did not go to Argentina.
When pictures of Johan-Boodram at Wednesday’s football game between T&T and Argentina showed her happily celebrating from the stands, this left Cooper stunned. “No PS must go on vacation without authorisation, because it is only with authorisation that we can appoint someone to act in their absence,” Cooper said.
According to the Constitution Section 85.1, a PS must seek leave from the minister and once there is no objection, that request is forwarded to Cooper for information purposes and so that he can then direct the PSC to appoint someone as acting PS for the duration of the absence. That did not happen in either case.
PSC in the dark
Head of the Public Service Commission Dr Marjorie Thorpe was also unaware that both PSs were AWOL. The PSC relies on direction from either Cooper or the Minister of Finance Larry Howai, who can appoint a financial officer to act in the PS’ absence. In a short telephone interview on Friday, Thorpe said the PSC had no requests before them. “I cannot remember those coming before us,” she said. Thorpe then called back, having conferred with her other commissioners. “No, nothing has come before us,” she said.