T&T PM defends sister’s foreign travel costs

(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has defended her sister’s travelling costs even as new figures reveal that Vidwatie Newton has cost taxpayers on trips to Brazil, London and Australia.
The Office of the Prime Minister spent TT$338,329.19 for Newton to accompany Persad-Bissessar to Australia from October 19 to November 6, 2011.
The figures were contained in a note prepared for Cabinet obtained by the Sunday Express.
Newton, described as travel assistant to the Prime Minister, was given a per diem equivalent to a public servant.
In London, from the period October 19 to 21 and again on November 3-5, she was allowed accommodation of £350 a day.
Her per diem was £145 a day totalling TT$9,422.00.
In Dubai from October 21-23 she was given  accommodation valued at US$278 a day, which totalled US$834 (TT$5,362.62).
Her per diem was US$155 a day which totalled TT$1,993.30.
In Perth, Australia, for the period October 24 to 30, no accommodation expenses were incurred as the delegation was accommodated by the Australian Government.
Her per diem was US$155 a day which totalled TT$6,976.55
In Hong Kong from October 31 to November 4, an allowance of TT$23,089.52 was paid for accommodation with a per diem of US$155 a day which totalled TT$3,986.60.
On Friday, it was revealed that Newton incurred expenditure of TT$233,600 as a member of Persad-Bissessar’s delegation to India from January 4 to 16.
The 14-member team from the office of the Prime Minister- which included Persad-Bissessar’s husband Dr Gregory Bissessar and a personal assistant Mila Loredo—totalled TT$2,341,891.
Yesterday Persad-Bissessar defended her sister’s travel costs as much as she’s had to defend her own during her 22 months in office.
“I think any person who does the kind of job that I do would requires someone to assist them personally,” said Persad-Bissessar as she defended Newton’s travel cost on her January journey to India.
Describing as “political mischief” the signalling out of Newton’s travel sum, the Prime Minister said she relies on her sister when she travels.
“It has been done before my time. She travels with me,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“I trust my sister. I feel comfortable with having her handling my personal matters like food and medication. It is vital. It allows me to spend more time on my job,” she said.
“Indeed, I am advised that former prime minister (Arthur N R) Robinson would take his son as his travel assistant,” she told reporters at the Maha Sabha Phagwa celebrations at the Tunapuna Hindu School yesterday.
Earlier, during a brief interview with the Sunday Express, she said she needed Newton to manage her busy schedule.
Newton has travelled frequently with Persad-Bissessar during her time in office.
She’s accompanied her on several trips to New York, Washington, to the UK, to Brazil and recently Australia and India.
Last September, Persad-Bissessar, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express said Newton was not employed or paid by the government.
She said then: “I do give her some of my own money because she has to live.”
“She was gainfully employed for many years and I am very grateful to her for helping me. I can trust her with my personal things: my food, my clothing. She came for the internal election and within weeks when Mr Manning called the general election I had to say ‘come back’. She came immediately and has been here ever since,” she told the Express on September 25 last year.
“It’s just political mischief they are up to as usual,” she said yesterday.

 

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