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Implications of Cuffie’s funding

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Back in 2009, I received several injections while undergoing medical treatment in the States. Although my physical health improved, there was one psychosomatic side-effect: anxiety attacks.

It occurred every time I saw the bill, as each injection cost US$2,700. Whether here or abroad, healthcare is expensive… and good healthcare even more so.

As mentioned in a previous column, I was fortunate that my parents were able to afford it. Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t say the same; having neither the personal resources nor the financial support.

Why then are our citizens, especially in these difficult economic times, footing the medical bill for Maxie Cuffie?

In February of this year, Prime Minister Rowley revealed that the Government had spent around $2 million towards the medical expenses of their fellow parliamentarian.

Since suffering a stroke in September 2017, the representative for La Horquetta/Talparo has been receiving extensive and expensive care.

He was initially warded at St Clair Medical Centre for surgery before being transferred, via air ambulance, to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC.

Three services—three hefty price tags—all paid by the taxpayer. Now while the Salaries Review Commission does stipulate that the State will cover such costs for elected officials, this situation raises two issues that should concern the public.

The first being that the SRC sets no limit on the financial entitlement for medical purposes, and secondly, that the Government was able to easily circumvent the commission’s rules when it authorised payment for the treatment MP Cuffie received outside of T&T.

This is similar to the circumstances surrounding Patrick Manning who, following a stroke in January 2012, was also treated at the Washington-based facility.But let’s put things into perspective. Apart from being a former prime minister, Mr Manning also held the accolade for the longest-serving Member of Parliament, representing the San Fernando East constituency for 44 years.

It’s a tenure that’s well-deserving of the State’s gratitude.

In comparison, Cuffie was only in Parliament for two years before his untimely condition and hadn’t accomplished anything that distinguished him as an exceptional MP or minister.

His diminutive service didn’t warrant the extent of the financial assistance afforded to him.

That’s in addition to the substantial monthly salary that MP Cuffie is still receiving under the leave of absence granted by Parliament which, up until a month ago, was at the ministerial grade.

It begs the question of whether the Government’s reluctance to call a by-election to replace him is just an underhanded way for the PNM to take care of their own using the public purse.

After photos of Cuffie were made public two weeks ago, multi-Minister Stuart Young admonished the negative comments that were made on social media, calling on citizens to show some compassion.

One might want to ask him where this Government’s compassion was when it came to the medical plight of former parliamentarian Morgan Job.

Assistance for him came from citizens who “voluntarily” made donations on a crowdfunding website. To add insult to mortality, just two days before Mr Job passed away, Minister Young—in defending the Cuffie expenditure and the possible breach of the SRC’s rules—told the Parliament that, “Cabinet is permitted to take decisions to deal with matters and situations, including assisting persons in need.”

It would seem that this Government values some people more than others.

The travesty here isn’t necessarily the amount of money that was spent on one politician’s healthcare.

It’s the irony that the whole lot of them are enjoying taxpayer-funded benefits and not providing equitable services to the very people who are paying for them.

As insensitive as it may sound— Cuffie’s life is no more important than that of any citizen of T&T.

And the same goes for his colleagues in the Parliament, the Prime Minister included.

They are there to serve us, not to serve themselves. In the meantime, I’m still paying off some old medical bills. But I don’t expect any assistance from the Government; I’d have to get elected to Parliament for that to happen.

Ryan Hadeed


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