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Incompetence—the order of the day

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Has the acceptance by the Cabinet and Parliament, without clarification, of the “recommendations” of the Salaries Review Commission on the housing allowance for the President by the Cabinet and the Parliament made them all complicit in the implementation of the recommendations?

What is the $28,000 housing allowance to the President for? Is it to financially placate (“hush money”) the President for placing him in unsuitable housing paid for by the State; or is it designed to pay a rent for suitable accommodation? 

Or maybe it’s an allowance to compensate the President if he remains in his own home until “suitable” accommodation is found by the State? Indeed, can the President accept the housing allowance while remaining in housing paid for by the State? 

Whatever the reasons turn out to be, it is really unfortunate that the President of the Republic, who is supposed to represent all that is good and noble in the nation, is involved in this most vulgar of financial squabbles.

But outside of the questions surrounding interpretation of the statement on the allowance, this columnist believes at the core of the imbroglio over the allowance is a combination of factors: gross inefficiency; “vaulting ambition” of a political nature; the absence of transparency and a full serving of political intrigue.

It has been more than ten years since the official residence of the President has been in a state of collapse. Succeeding governments have promised to restore this historical landmark that is supposed to represent the State, the official facilities upon which the imprimatur of the State is placed, so that when the President hosts the kindergarten and primary school children of the nation, or heads of states of foreign countries, they will understand that this is the official residence of the President of the Republic of T&T and all that stands for. In his role in 2010 as the “fix- it” man of the new PP government, Minister of Works and Infrastructure Jack Warner recognised the unsuitability of having the President living elsewhere but the official residence of the State and promised the house would be renovated in 18 months; it’s almost five years since that promise.

Six to seven years ago then Prime Minister Patrick Manning championed the creation of an executive president as proposed by the constitution reform team. To realise such an ambition Manning had constructed the palace of St Ann’s, including the Diplomatic Centre; he even wanted to expand the presidential grounds to the adjoining football field for helicopter landings and to also confiscate a portion of the Botanic Gardens for an entrance to the palace.

With that in mind it is easy to see why Manning ignored the crumbling President’s House. Unknown to the nation, the Chief Personnel Officer interpreted the recommendation made by the Salaries Review Commission, which in turn was agreed upon by Cabinet and the Parliament, to mean that the President was entitled to the allowance as stated below.   

“Where the official residence is not available for use by the President, and suitable alternative accommodation is not provided, an allowance of $28,000 per month.” To decipher the recommendation we return to the questions at the top of this column. To add to those questions is the contemplation: should the President of the Republic, adequately catered for in salary and living expenses, including medical care for himself and his wife, be handed another $28,000, he having already accepted his living quarters?  Is the State promoting a money culture by so doing? If the President lives in inadequate/unsuitable lodgings, which he has accepted, and not insisted that suitable accommodation be found, it is the State which has been embarrassed and not the President, so why should the individual be compensated? Martin Daly, SC, has argued that the CPO does not have the power to interpret the SRC provision; Attorney General Ramlogan wants the SRC to clear the air on the entitlement of the President to the housing allowance, the AG and the government having disavowed any knowledge of the payment being made.

The political opposition, including Keith Rowley and David Abdulah, are charging the Government with being aware of the payment and therefore complicit in delivering the housing allowance to President Carmona while the President had already accepted and occupies housing paid for by the State.

But as pointed out above, the official opposition cannot legitimately call on the Government to come clean when it too had a say in the acceptance or not of the SRC recommendations when they were laid in the Parliament. Is this building to another situation in which the Government will seek refuge in the claim that acceptance of the recommendations of the SRC by the Cabinet and Parliament was a mere “oversight” a la Section 34?If that comes to be the case, the rest of the society must conclude that the Cabinet and Parliament are totally incompetent and that the party members/representatives are preoccupied with scoring political points rather than passing quality legislation and overseeing documentation proposed by constitutional institutions such as the SRC.


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