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Agri minister clears air on J’Ouvert portrayal

Published: 
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat has responded to calls for him to recuse himself from the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) which is looking into expenditure at President’s House among other matters.

Concerns were raised about apparent bias and conflict of interest after the minister played J’Ouvert in a portrayal which included a cardboard sign around his neck which read “Come taste de Presidential wine.”

The photograph was widely shared on social media.

In a text message, Rambharat said he saw the call for him to recuse himself from the PAAC in a letter to the editor published in a daily newspaper.

He said: “I am not involved in the investigation of the expenditure at the President’s House. I am a member of the PAAC which, among other things, reviews the public sector use of budgetary allocations and makes recommendations regarding systemic issues.

“I am sure the chairs of any JSC on which I sit would address any complaint received.”

The PAAC is chaired by House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and includes government ministers Rambharat, Maxie Cuffie, Ayana Webster-Roy, La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre and PNM Senator Daniel Dookie, UNC’s MP Dr Lackram Bodoe, Senator Wade Mark and Independent Senator Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir.

The committee, which first met in January, is to examine the Office of the President’s expenditure and internal controls for inventory control, internal audit, accountability and transparency, as well as the purchase of minor equipment, goods and services.

Questions have been raised about the purchase of wine from an Italian vineyard at a cost of $1.4 million which bear the presidential crest and the T&T Coat of Arms.

Concerns about financial management at the office of the President came to the fore in the 2015 Auditor General’s report which found 85 instances of incorrect classification of expenditure totaling $2,685,236.90. This in contravention of Financial Regulation 65 which stipulates that a vote may not be applied for a purpose for which it was not intended.