Included in this figure were sums of $338, 329.19 and $233,640.45 for Newton to accompany Persad-Bissessar to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia last October, and on a visit to India in January respectively.
The information was disclosed by Government Chief Whip, Dr Roodal Moonilal, in the House of Representatives yesterday in response to questions from PNM Laventille East/Morvant MP, Donna Cox.
Moonilal also disclosed, “The post of travel assistant to the Prime Minister is not an established post created by Cabinet.”
He said Newton “is a qualified nurse by profession, and accompanies the Prime Minister on certain overseas travel.”
He said in addition to performing nurse-related duties, Newton also acts as “scheduling coordinator to ensure the Prime Minister’s presence and attendance at certain functions.” Moonilal then listed all instances from June, 2010 to the present, where public monies were paid to Newton, stating they were to cover her airfare, meals and hotel accommodation when she accompanied Persad-Bissessar overseas.
Those expenses were:
* Miami/Jamaica, July 4-8, 2010,
* New York, August 13-22, 2010,
* New York, Sept 20-28, 2010,
* Washington Nov 8-10, 2010,
$21, 783. 89;
* London March 12-21, 2011, $60,440;
* Washington, April 4-9, 2011,
* Brazil April 27- 29, 2011, $21,881.29;
* St Kitts, July 1-3, 2011, $11,464.32;
* New York, Sept 19-30, 2011,
* Australia, October 19-22, 2011,
*India, Jan 2-17, 2012, $233,640.45.
When Cox asked what was the difference between the functions performed by Persad-Bissessar’s adviser Lisa Ghany and Newton, Moonilal said Government would provide an answer once the question is properly filed in Parliament.
Speaking later with reporters, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said, “When this matter first came up, it was explained to the country by Government spokespersons that this lady operated in the context of a travel assistant to the Prime Minister. Today in answer to a question, we are being told there is no such arrangement at the Prime Minister’s office.”
Questioning the exact role which Newton performs, Rowley said, “Cabinet authorises certain officers to fly first class. As a taxpayer, you would want to know whether that kind of expenditure that you saw there is first class travel, and if it is, to what officer.”
He claimed Government is still hiding information related to the issue.
A statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, on March 13, said Persad-Bissessar had the option of hiring Newton as a member of her staff, but chose not to do so to avoid certain accusations of nepotism, and Newton receives no salary from the State.
Contacted yesterday, Persad-Bissessar did not respond to Rowley’s comments. She reiterated that Newton’s duties included assisting in the areas of food, clothing, medication; scheduling and preparing her to attend certain events, and making arrangements for boarding and lodging.