Minister of Finance Winston Jordan on Friday told the National Assembly that he was not responsible for accounting for funds spent on the rental of houses for government ministers.
“All emoluments of Ministers are handled by the Parliament Office. Their salary, allowances, even to the driver are handled by Parliament. The Honourable Member’s questions are ill directed to the Minister of Finance,” Jordan told the House in response to a series of questions directed to him by PPP/C member Anil Nandlall on “Expenditure on Rental of Ministers’ Residences.”
Nandlall sought to have Jordan inform the National Assembly which, if any, of the housing rental contracts for ministers were considered or approved by the Ministry of Finance and or the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB). He also asked that Jordan provide the House with the relevant documentation on the approvals of the ministry or NPTAB on these matters.
He also questioned whether the government’s policy on the rental and rates of accommodations for ministers was/is guided by fiscal availability and budgetary considerations, as well as, which agencies’ budgets in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets made provision for the expenditure and under which sub-heads.
Jordan’s declaration that he was not the person to answer the question did not find favour with Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira.
Teixeira declared she couldn’t comprehend Jordan’s answer since it was a budgetary matter and the Minister of Finance answers for all budgetary matters and for all expenditures.
“Mr. Speaker, please direct the Minister that we can’t ask the Clerk, we can’t ask the Speaker. By the constitutional laws of this country, it his responsibility, sir. The Parliament falls under you Minister and it is you who must answer,” she stressed.
“I am not responsible for constitutional agencies when their budgets are approved in this House they are approved as lump sum. I cannot be responsible for how budgets of constitutional agencies are implemented under law,” Jordan, however, retorted.
At this point Teixeira demanded of the Speaker that he guide the opposition on just “who is going to answer?”
In response, Speaker Barton Scotland declared that he could not give guidance. “That answer must stand until another is provided,” he explained. At this point, the mics of the protesting opposition members were turned off and the sitting continued despite their complaints.
The public became aware that properties were being rented for government ministers using public funds after landlord Peter Ramsaroop instituted legal action against Junior Natural Resources Minister Simona Broomes and the Parliament Office for breach of contract. That action has since been withdrawn.
Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs had publicly indicated that an administrative decision was taken to rent the residence for the minister, who is entitled to $25,000 in housing allowance. The rental was for the sum of $500,000 per month. Isaacs, however, is still to identify who made this decision.
He has since indicated that he will no longer be addressing the issue publicly and has also not responded to a request from Nandlall, the PPP/C’s Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, asking for the decision-maker to be identified. As a result, Nandlall took his questions to the House.