It was clear there was more than one reason that yesterday was truly Private Members’ Day in Parliament—the day for Opposition business. And the Opposition didn’t hesitate to show it.
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Dumas calls for disciplinary action
Head of the Public Service and Permanent Secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister Reynold Cooper is expected to take action today in the matter against Permanent Secretary of the Tourism Ministry Juliana Johan-Boodram, who left for a four-day trip to Argentina without approval. As reported in the Sunday Guardian, Johan-Boodram went to Argentina last week Sunday to see a friendly football match between the host nation and T&T without the knowledge and approval of Cooper.
Reliable sources yesterday disclosed that matter is expected to be addressed today and Johan-Boodram will be called to account for her action. Cooper said on Friday he was stunned to learn of her absence in the media. Former head of the public service Reginald Dumas said yesterday Cooper must demand answers from Johan-Boodram. “This is a serious matter which requires urgent attention,” he added.
“He must ask for an explanation from the PS and if he was not satisfied with it (her explanation) he must proceed to seek disciplinary action against her.” On Friday, Johan-Boodram said she “forgot” to inform Cooper about her departure and that the trip was “not a big deal” as it had not been paid for with state funds. She said that she left under the delegated authority of her line Minister Gerald Hadeed and therefore she did not need Cabinet approval.
Another PS Ashwin Creed has also been absent from his ministry without approval. Creed, who sought emergency leave from April 14 to 22, has been away from the Ministry of Sports for a further 16 days, without getting an extension.
In response, Dumas said: “If you are a serious PS, you don’t forget things like that. You are the civil service head of the ministry, you are the accounting officer. A PS cannot leave the country without informing the Head of the Public Service, the Public Service Commission because arrangements have to made for someone to act during her absence, even if it is two days.”
Dumas said while he was not sure she received Cabinet’s permission to leave the country “she was at fault for not getting in touch with the Head of the Public Service for an acting appointment to be made. She is certainly at fault and it was for the head of the Public Service to take action.”
On her claim that she left on the “delegated authority” of Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed, Dumas said he wanted to know since when that new measure was introduced. He said ministers had to get the approval of Cabinet to travel abroad but Permanent Secretaries did not. “Since when,” he asked. And Dumas said the PS may in breach of the law by accepting a ticket that was not paid for by the government or the ministry.
Dumas said Section 25 of the Constitution prohibits a PS from accepting gifts over a certain value. He said the ticket could be seen a gift and consequently she “must say what was the cost of the ticket and who paid for it.” Without giving details, Dumas said he remembered a similar incident happening when he was head of the public service and PS to the Prime Minister. In that incident, Dumas said the PS had taken “government funds” and went to a meeting in New York, USA without his knowledge and permission.
Dumas said when he was made aware of the unauthorised trip, he “got in touch with the PS and asked ‘if it was true’ and he said ‘yes it was true’ and I said well in that case I am going to request the Public Service Commission to take action.” He said the PSC took disciplinary action against the official, suspending him. to take disciplinary action against you.” Dumas said the PS was asked to repay the funds but could not say if it was done because he retired shortly after as Head of the Public Service.
Chairman of the Public Service Commission Dr Marjorie Thorpe on Friday said she was also unaware of the foreign trip by PS Johan-Boodram.