Tobago Development Minister and MP for Tobago East Vernella Alleyne-Toppin has been told by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) to make an "unconditional apology" to her constituents and the people of Trinidad and Tobago for misusing a Government credit card.
That instruction came from TOP's chairman Stanley Beard, who criticised the minister's action in a statement yesterday morning. The credit card issue was raised by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley in Parliament two weeks ago in the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Commenting on the matter yesterday, Beard said TOP's Island Council "categorically condemns the apparent misuse of the Government-issued credit card." He added: "This event saddens us all and we welcome her full and unconditional apology to both her constituents and the people of Trinidad and Tobago."
Beard said TOP was firmly committed to resolving the matter in the interest of good governance, transparency in public affairs and financial accountability. "We will take every step to counsel and support our representative to ensure this does not happen again," he added. Baird said TOP had taken note of Alleyne-Toppin's position on the matter, particularly her reference "to the novelty associated with her first term in office."
He said note also was taken of the period during which the alleged discrepancies occurred and "the failure of systemic checks within the ministry to have arrested this matter in its infancy." Alleyne-Toppin claimed she took cash advances from the card because she did not know it was a breach of the rules governing its use. She insisted all the cash withdrawn had been repaid.
TOP leader Ashworth Jack told the T&T Guardian the decision to condemn Alleyne-Toppin's action was "not a personal attack against any individual. "It was simply a decision not to compromise on the founding principles of the TOP," he explained. Jack said Alleyne-Toppin was invited to a meeting to discuss the matter but was unable to attend.
The Tobago Affairs Minister chalked up a $68,048.16 balance on the credit card. Transactions included cash advances taken from ATMs throughout the country for sums ranging from $3,500 to $200. Alleyne-Toppin also used the card to pay bills at various local businesses, including Ruby Tuesday ($804); Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) ($5,743, $3,522 and $1,699.19 and Bella Forma Resorts ($2,433.25).
There are strict terms and conditions for use of the card. No local cash advances are to be made with it, although cash withdrawals are allowed while on official overseas travel with charges for withdrawal to be paid by the card holder. The credit card is for official overseas travel and local entertainment expenses for Government officials and holders of certain offices under the purview of the Salaries Review Commission.