T&T Health Minister admits misuse of credit card

(Trinidad Express) Displaying a degree of forthrightness in marked contrast to his colleague, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has come clean and has admitted to violating the terms and conditions of his Government-issued credit card on three separate instances.

Khan has also “recognised his error, expressed remorse” and has apologised to the national community for it yesterday.

Khan’s admission comes on the heels of revelations that Tobago Development Minister Alleyne-Toppin misused her Government-issued credit card. The total on the card at December 2011 was TT$68,048.16.

Unlike Alleyne-Toppin, it was out of funds that Khan credited to the card, that he made the expenditures that were deemed to be unauthorised—not in accordance with the terms that the card was issued.

In a release issued yesterday, Khan said the controversy surrounding Alleyne-Toppin’s credit card use “caused him to review the terms and conditions for the use of” his Government-issued credit card.

Following this review, Khan said he found that he misused the credit card for online purchases on three occasions.

“The first occasion involved the purchase of books online for healthcare management via Amazon.com. The second occasion involved the purchase of exercise dumbbells and a bench also via Amazon.com as part of Minister’s promise to lead by example in the “Fight the Fat” campaign. The third occasion involved the purchase of an airline ticket online for the Minister to travel to Paris, France in April 2012 on Government business. By purchasing the ticket online, the Minister was able to save the Government approximately TT$30,000,” the release stated.

“It is important to note that at no time did the Minister of Health use Government funds for any of these purchases. Before said purchases were made, the Minister credited the said account with additional sums to cover these purchases. In fact, as it currently stands there is still an excess of funds in said account that belongs to the Minister,” the release added.

“Notwithstanding the aforementioned, according to the terms and conditions of the use of said credit cards, these purchases amounted to violations of the agreement signed for its use. In his review the Minister recognises his error and expresses remorse. Minister wishes to humbly apologise to the national community for this inadvertent error,” the release stated.

Khan said he was “in the process of writing” to Finance Minister Winston Dookeran to apologise for the “contraventions”, to return the credit card as well as seek the balance owed to him.

In stark contrast, Alleyne-Toppin, who ran up a credit card bill of TT$68,048.16 with transactions which included numerous cash advances, has maintained steadfastly that she has done nothing wrong.

Even in the face of a “categorical condemnation” of her misuse of the card by her own party, Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), and a call from that party that she should issue an “unconditional apology” to her constituents and the people of Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, Alleyne-Toppin has stated that she used the card “as prescribed’ and felt “completely vindicated” .

The strict conditions attached to the card prohibit its use for local cash advances and Alleyne-Toppin made several local withdrawals.

In Parliament at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday, the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) continued to keep the issue of the Government credit cards alive.

Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, responding to a question from Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox, said over the years the Office of the Prime Minister has made available credit cards to be used on official overseas trips and business of the Office of the Prime Minister.

He said this card “was not for the sole use of the Prime Minister, but for all officials of the Office of the Prime Minister, who are travelling”.

He said since 2001, the card has been in the name of former personal assistant, Mark Regis and thereafter former personal assistant, Kirk St Bernard (both of whom worked during the tenure of former prime minister Patrick Manning). Moonilal said the card was currently in the name of current adviser, Barry Padarath. But Moonilal stressed that this card is to be used for “all officers travelling from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry effectively when on overseas missions”.

Cox sought clarification on whether it was only Padarath who had a card.

Moonilal said : “There is only one credit card issued. And that was (previously) in the name of Mark Regis, then it was changed to Kirk St Bernard (who replaced Regis) and currently it is in the name of Barry Padarath. It is one card for the use of the entire Ministry, for the Office of the Prime Minister, while on overseas travel.”

Asked by Diego Martin North/East MP whether any of the Ministers in the Office of the Prime Minister or the Permanent Secretaries had a Government issued credit card, Moonilal said his information was that only one credit card was issued and that was to Padarath, which is used for official overseas travel.


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