President Bharrat Jagdeo said yesterday he has directed Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh to write to those who have not cleared advances on their government-sponsored travel. Pointing out that when officials travel, they have to clear their advances, Jagdeo told reporters at the Office of the President (OP) that there have been “quite a bit” of outstanding advances. “I said to the Minister of Finance to write the members who have not cleared their advances, to say to them that unless you clear your advances within a month that we are going to, we’re not going to ask anyone else, we are going to publish all the names in the newspapers,” said Jagdeo. He said he gave the directive a few days ago.
According to the President, some travellers have said they’ve cleared the advances and its “just paperwork problems and they have evidence of it.” If this is the case, the President said, he ordered those persons to reconcile it with the Accountant General.
And those questioning the costs of Jagdeo’s overseas trips? They are barking up the wrong tree, Jagdeo said. “My allowances are exactly the same as a person travelling, Minister as well as the person travelling like a regular staff from any ministry,” he said. “My travels could be easily discerned from the Accountant General,” he added.
And tangible benefits of some of those trips? “I’m not going to get into this thing about how much benefits we got because the leader of the opposition and he raised this matter… one trip when he fell ill and I didn’t want to say this, the cost of that was equivalent to more than maybe three years of my entire travel, maybe three years of my travel so I didn’t want to get into this sort of thing,” the President said.
Asked whether the OP is prepared to provide a financial breakdown of all his overseas trips since 1999, the President responded that OP does not deal with this. Jagdeo said he observed some “un-erudite” articles about the costs of his trips not being in the OP’s budget. He said there is one travel vote for the entire country including him, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, the Permanent Secretaries and others. “There’s one budget and it is held by the Accountant General. On average it has been about $200M per year for everyone, the entire government,” he said.
Jagdeo pointed to the Alliance For Change’s (AFC) statement saying that his travel costs were $1B in two years and contrasting this with the $200M figure, expressed worry if the AFC gains power. “Mathematics is important now,” he said.
Further, the President continued, a lot of the trips including his visits to the Middle East were official visits and these are paid for by the host. On trips for Caricom meetings, it is him, his Aide-de-Camp, the Director-General of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jagdeo said.
He declared that this is one of the smallest delegations in Caricom. When the opposition was in power, a routine Caricom meeting would have at least 15 persons, he continued. Even though he is eligible to do so, he does not stay at the most expensive hotels because “it’s just a room to me.” His staff was also ordered not to do so, he said.
According to the President, the cost of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Trinidad and Tobago could cover the Guyana government’s trips for 50 years. “I am just saying this not because I feel I have to defend it because I think Ashni Singh and the others did, they gave enough information but just to say they barking up the wrong tree. They barking up the wrong tree,” he declared.