One day after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that the State would be suing former Udecott chairman Calder Hart over his tenure at the company, her Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal laid bare more than $3 million in expenses incurred by Udecott staff for services at the four-star Hyatt Regency under Hart.
“A former senior executive, Neelanda Rampaul, racked up a total of $3,185,250 in expenses over a period of eight months, September 9 to April 10, at the Hyatt,” Moonilal said during the Budget debate, at Tower D, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. He said Udecott officials racked up millions of dollars “in cookies, sleep-overs, lavish banquets, which they classified as office expenses.”
Moonilal said the officials had an apparent fondness for Hyatt cookies. Featuring on company bills were: macaroons, oatmeal cookies and almond cookies.
“This was paid for by the taxpayers!” Moonilal said, reading from documents. On December 2009 there was a bill which included “two dozen cookies”.
Invoices obtained by Newsday show one instance of purchases of four macaroons; four peanut butter cookies and four chocolate chip cookies on January 21, 2010 and eight chocolate chip cookies on January 25, 2010. On both dates the purchases were made by the one Udecott official who billed the company $531.30 for the desert items alone.
On December 7, 2009, a different official ordered: six macaroons; four oatmeal cookies; four almond cookies and four chocolate chip cookies, billing Udecott $341.55. Some officials also billed for caviar, sushi (nigiri), salmon, avocado and more.
“Lamb chops, pork chops, any chops!” Moonilal said. Drinks included items from a pool bar such as: pina coladas and liqueurs. Several got the company to pay for a drink referred to as “a Virgin Banana”, a reference to a kind of non-alcoholic cocktail.
“Mr Speaker, I better put this down,” Moonilal said at this point.
The series of invoices obtained by Newsday disclose further items billed including: sea bass; shrimp; risotto; smoked salmon; eel (unagi); Angus burgers; crab dumplings; eggs benedict, calamari. Other drinks included: mojitos; sake; Tanqueray (gin); Johnny Walker Black (whiskey); smoothies.
There were invoices for group lunches: one for $1,935.45 for a group of seven on December 8, 2009. Another group meal – apparently a brunch – cost $2,080.93. In a single sitting, another invoice totalled $1,094.23. On one instance, Hart himself billed the company $514.38 for a dinner on January 25, 2010.
The bill for the batteries came up to $35.65 for one Duracell AAA packet.
“All of this was during the Uff Inquiry,” Moonilal said. “This is not the kind of thing for which the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago should be asked to foot the bill. These expenses are wanton waste.”
Moonilal, the line minister for Udecott, continued, “I have no difficulty with people who have lavish tastes and who like executive meals and drinks. But when it comes to the pay, dip the money from your pockets and your purse and pay. Don’t put it on expenses” The Chief Whip attacked the Opposition for criticising the allocation of $50 million in the Ministry of the Attorney General to fund forensic investigations.
“They don’t want us to allocate money for forensic audits because then if we audit properly we might find out about these pina coladas and pork chops and lamb chops and virgin bananas, Mr Speaker,” Moonilal said.