Address to the Nation By
His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, ORTT, SC
President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
September 28, 2016
The Office of the President is committed to institutional transparency, accountability and integrity. Throughout the financial year, officers of the Auditor General’s Department would assess and invariably guide the Accounting Officers of the Office of the President to ensure that the officers properly do their job in accordance with financial and procurement rules and regulations. It is not uncommon when there are doubts with regard to the use of a particular vote that the Accounting Officers of the Office of the President consult the Director of Budgets, all with a view to ensuring that the processes and regulations are adhered to.
As Head of State of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I have certain Constitutional responsibilities and duties and I am aware that these must be carried out to the rule and spirit of the Constitution, laws and conventions. As President, I have always acted within my Constitutional remit and will continue to do so. This is not to say that there are sometimes grey areas of engagement with the other arms of the Executive and this is not uncommon in burgeoning democracies. However, I am fully aware that any power an individual has must always be exercised with responsibility, a sense of fairness, transparency, integrity and respect. This has been my mantra and I have never wavered from that belief and I practice that belief in real terms. I am about proactivity and I am an important crew member on the ship of State. I cannot see things going wrong and remain quiet. If there are currents in the river, I cannot be indifferent to its danger to the swimmer that is unaware. I am a simple man with a big heart in an exceptional job, and I am a practicing believer in service leadership.
For the record, Ms. Prima Noe was my Private Secretary from inception, has tertiary education and is fluent in Spanish, Italian, German and English. Ms. Liverpool is not my Accounting Officer, Mr. Serrette is, and Fleet Williams is substantive Fleet Mechanic. Adverse comments on all of them may well have gone beyond the threshold of fair comment.
- THE IMPORTATION OF WINE:
By Law and Convention, the Office of the President is required to host and/or provide service and other support to State, diplomatic and official functions and ceremonies, national and international events and the patronages under the purview of Their Excellencies, the President and Mrs. Reema Carmona. In many instances as hosts to these events, Her Excellency and I foot the bill from the relevant vote under the Presidential budget. Such events must maintain standards consistent with international protocol and practices. It is accepted international protocol and convention to serve quality food, quality beverages including wines and champagne, as appropriate, among other cuisine and beverages, at these functions and they must be held at appropriate venues.
Upon my assuming Office in March 2013, I determined that the pervading economic downturn required fiscal and economic measures to control the very high cost of such functions. Her Excellency and I recognised the price of wine, champagne and catered cuisine were simply too high. You will recall I had publicly spoken about the economic downturn in the Nation in 2013. Therefore, I took the proactive decision to break with the tradition of the past and remove champagne from beverages offered to guests at these functions and to cut down significantly on the ‘catering-out’ at these functions. Given the high local and regional market prices for quality wines, the Office of the President sourced comparable quality wines (white wine, red wine and sparkling wines), at exceptionally reasonable prices, from a well-respected vineyard in Italy.
The cost of these quality wines bought in 2014 by the Office of the President was erroneously stated in the media as $1,000,000.00. The cost of these quality imported wine is in 2014 amounted to TT$1,483,638.40. The purchase was made in three vouchers (payments) on the following dates:
- 25 November 2014- $793,472.40
- 1 May 2015- $347,484.00
- 27 July 2015- $342,682.00
As a result of this cost effective purchase, the Office of the President has not made any additional purchases of quality wines, since late 2014, 2015, 2016 and we anticipate 2017, notwithstanding the increased number of events hosted and paid for by Their Excellencies under the Presidential budget.
The purchase of these quality wines (red wine, white wine and sparkling wine) has been conducted with the requisite transparency, due diligence and in keeping with proper procurement practices as advised. This commercial decision has resulted in substantial savings to the Office of the President and by extension, the taxpayer. By removing the champagne alone, the Office of the President has cut alcohol expenses by some $600,000.00 a year, as compared to previous years. Additionally, the importation of these specialised high-quality wines has also cut significantly, the rest of the alcohol budget. Her Excellency and I did not stop there. The caterers that provided services to the Office of the President in the past were too high. As a result, at the President’s household we have well-trained cooks as part of the Presidential retinue and we have therefor cut down by some 80%, using caterers and restaurateurs at functions. The well-trained cooks have not only enhanced the quality of foods served, much to the stated appreciation of our stakeholders, but it gives the trained cooks the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills and dynamism that has effectively raised the persona of Presidential cuisine.
Contrary to false and incorrect media reports, neither Ms Prima Noe, former Private Secretary to the President nor Mr Antonio Piccolo purchased nor imported quality wines on behalf of the Office of the President. Additionally, contrary to false media reports, Italian Import/Export Limited, a registered local company and/or its directors did not purchase or import any wine on behalf of the Office of the President. The Office of the President utilised a well-established registered, local company to be the agent who facilitated the purchase and importation of such quality wines. These quality wines which were imported, were neither bottled nor labelled in Trinidad and Tobago.
- THE LEGITIMATE USE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CREST:
The National Coat of Arms is not the Presidential Crest and the Presidential Crest is not the Coat of Arms. Listen quietly, The National Coat of Arms is not the Presidential Crest and the Presidential Crest is not the Coat of Arms. The National Coat of Arms is governed by Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago under the purview of The National Emblems Committee Regulations, Chap 19:04, Act 14 of 1967, which fall under the Ministry of National Security. Its copyright is vested in the State of Trinidad & Tobago. The second and last Governor-General of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ellis Clarke, on the 27 July 1976, issued the Proclamation placing the new Constitution into effect and declaring Trinidad and Tobago a Republic as of Sunday, 1 August 1976.
In the circumstances, the Governor-General’s personal Standard was lowered and the new Presidential Standard bearing and incorporating the Coat-of-Arms of Trinidad and Tobago, and surrounded by a laurel wreath in gold was hoisted, that is, the Presidential Crest. Our Republican Constitution gave birth to the Presidential Crest.
That emblem became the Official Seal/Crest of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and is exclusive to the Head of State and the Office of the President in the performance of his functions and administrative duties. It is the symbol of the President and the Office he holds.
The Crest/Seal of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is not to be confused with the National Coat of Arms. They are separate and apart. One is regulated by the Government with respect to its usage and the other represents the symbol of the Office of the Head of State and the other regulated by the President as his symbol as Head of state. This copyright of the Seal of the President is vested in the Office of the President by virtue of his powers enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. The President is Chancellor of the Orders of Trinidad & Tobago and chief custodian of his Crest/ Seal.
The Crest/Seal of the Office of President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago can and has been used on all stationery, cutlery and crockery, napkins, serviettes, vehicles and other diverse things.
Traditionally, the Crown Agents in London catered for and provided all of these requirements for the Colonial Governors and the Governors-General of Trinidad and Tobago.
With the attainment of Republican Status in 1976, all items that had the previous Royal Cipher of Queen Elizabeth II, had to be replaced with the Crest/Seal of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. These items of bone china were previously supplied by Royal Worcester in the United Kingdom and The President’s House has items of bone china still in use from 1979 in the ‘Mountbatten’ pattern. Later on, chinaware from William Edwards in England were ordered and are also currently in use. It is important to note that the underside of this bone china service permanently in print states “The President’s House – The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago – Fine Bone China” with the Presidential Crest imprinted thereon.
In a similar manner, the Honourable Prime Minister, Heads of Foreign Missions abroad all use the National Coat of Arms on their china service at their Official Residences. The Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force uses its logo on all of its china and drinking ware.
As is customary and traditional, one of the duties of this Head of State is to entertain and His Excellency the President must host banquets as well as Official State and Diplomatic Dinners.
The use of the Crest/Seal of the Head of State on bottles of wine or spirits to be served at official functions is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago. In the United Kingdom, there are whiskies named The House of Lords and House of Commons with the Seal of the UK Parliament, and these are presented by Members of both Houses as official gifts. In the United States at The White House, an exclusive beer is brewed for the President and his guests.
- In relation to the positives of having a branded use of the Presidential wine, the following ought to be noted:
- There is no corporate branding or advertisement on the wine bottles of a supplier or of its name the product.
- It is used strictly for Official Functions of the Office of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago held by Their Excellencies.
- The branded quality wines with the Crest/Seal can be monitored and audited so as to prevent theft, disappearance.
- The unit cost of these quality wines with the personalised label, is significantly less than what was supplied by previous suppliers.
- The product cannot to be commercially sold, exchanged or be available to the public outside of State functions and events.
- The product (the wine) is not personal to the person of the President but is exclusive to the Office of the President.
In relation to the Presidential crest/seal, the National Emblems Act does not apply and the Crest/Seal of the Office of the President is mentioned nowhere in the Act. The Office of the President does not have to apply to any authority or the Minister of National Security for permission to use the Presidential Crest/Seal.
These quality wines of the Office of the President have never been sold, exchanged or given as a gift. Anyone found in possession of a full bottle of the wine with the Presidential Crest/Seal can be charged with being in unlawful possession of stolen goods.
The use of the replica of the Seal of the President on bottles of wine for functions and events does not infringe or violate any law of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. There is nothing illegal in its use.
The Presidential Crest/Seal is for the exclusive use of the Office of the President. The Presidential Seal is a symbol of the Constitutional and conventional authority vested in the President as a result of the Republican Constitution. All persons, without exception, are offered those wines at all appropriate Presidential functions and special events.
- THE AUDITOR GENERAL’S REPORT OF FINANCIAL MATTERS:
The Auditor General’s Report for the financial year 2015 never stated or implied that the Office of the President has stolen any money, misused any money, misappropriated any money nor has the Report stated that the Office of the President has overspent or misused monies within its budget.
The President and/or the Office of the President neither stole, misused, abused nor misappropriated any public funds, including sum of TT$2.8M. The Auditor General never accused the Office of the President of buying $2M in jewellery or at all, and this particular allegation was debunked and rejected by the Office of the Auditor General when contacted. When a particular reporter contacted the Office of the Auditor General, that reporter was provided an explanation and information that the allegations of misuse and misappropriation of the said TT$2,000,000.00 were simply false and unsupported. When the news broke on the allegation that evening, the particular reporter never stated what was communicated to him by the Office of the Auditor General.
For the sake of clarification, it is to be noted that the Auditor General’s Report for the financial year 2015 dated April 29, 2016 made absolutely made no mention whatsoever of missing or misspent money by the Office of the President, in the sum of TT$2.8M and/or at all. Rather, the Report references an administrative error in the classification of the money spent and states that the said money was classified under a particular vote/heading, when it ought to have been so listed/classified under another related vote/heading. A newspaper report stated that there was a TT$2.8M query about overspending at the President’s House, suggesting or implying that money was misspent. This is a total fabrication. The sum referred to by the Auditor General was correctly stated as TT$2,685,236. The Auditor General’s report stated that TT$2.6M was incorrectly classified and paid under the wrong vote. The media keeps reporting that it is a sum of $2.8M.
Examples of wrong classification are as follows: There are two votes that line up similarly, Vote 19 and Vote 66. Vote 19 is for official entertainment of the Office of the President and Vote 66 is for hosting of conferences, seminars and other functions so that items and goods paid under Vote 19 should have been paid under Vote 66 and vice-versa. It is simply a matter of how the Accounting Department interpreted items and goods received in the context of the vote. Incorrect classification with regard to the votes can be found throughout the Auditor General’s Report, with respect to all entities which fall under the jurisdiction of the Auditor General.
The Office of the President receives, by far, the lowest annual budgetary allocation among all the State institutions in Trinidad and Tobago. Ours is a case of double digits, not triple digits. This allocation pays for all expenses including the salaries of the Presidential staff and public servants.
In relation to that query, incorrect classification is not exclusive to this Office in the Auditor General’s report for the financial year 2015.I Incorrect classification was also a problem for other entities mentioned in the Auditor General’s Report and any perusal of the Auditor General’s report for the financial year 2015 will demonstrate many instances of incorrect classifications by those entities falling under the accounting jurisdiction of the Auditor General. Incorrect classification does not mean that money has been misused, spent illegally or stolen. Going back the $2.6 million spoken about, $1,862,600.00 of that $2.6M, or if you are into statistics, 70% went in payment of salaries of persons legitimately employed at the Office of the President but it was classified as coming from the wrong vote. As we say in Trinidad, ‘Is somebody trying ah thing on the Office of the President.’
Reference was made to a Public Accounts Committee hearing dated 8 June 2016, where the Deputy Auditor General had inadvertently stated that the Auditor General was not in receipt of a response to a memo from the Office of the President sent on 16 April 2016. When the Office of the President sent its response, the Auditors General’s Department has already gone to press because I was out of the country and required a 2 weeks extension. Notwithstanding, the Office of the President responded comprehensively on all queried matters on 29 April 2016.
A further query was made of items costing $300,444.92, which were bought by the Office of the President and not entered into the inventory register. I wish to emphasise that the Inventory Register is not only for the Office of the President. There exists an Inventory Register for the President’s Cottage (Household) and the interim Audit Team from the Auditor General’s Department was made aware of its existence and it was made available to them. All these items were purchased for our many Official and State functions and to name a few- the annual Ambassadors and Heads of Mission Diplomatic Dinner, the annual National Awards and the President’s functions in both Trinidad and in Tobago. A response dated 29 April 2016 form the Office of the President was dispatched to the Auditor General and in that response, the Auditor General was made aware that these items are available in the Cottage and arrangements can be made for their viewing and physical verification. They did not take up the offer.
Serious allegations, very unfounded, bordering on the mischievous, were laid at the doorstep of the Office of the President, concerning the use of its allocated budget.
Since my tenure began in March 2013, the President’s budgetary allocation for that year was $22, 849,380.00. In 2014 $34,533,520.00, in 2015 $37,676,070.00 and in 2016 $25,867,510. The actual expenditure for 2013 was $20,498,611. That has resulted in actual savings of $2,350,769 million dollars. In 2014 the actual expenditure was $25,028,954. That has resulted in savings of $9,540,566. In 2015, $24,957,314 resulting in savings of $12,718,756 that were never utilized and sent back to the treasury. We are still in 2016. We saved taxpayers money in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and we are looking good in 2016. This is against a backdrop where Her Excellency and I are having at least three times the amount of official state events, functions and patronages that were previously held- the result of many initiatives that both Her Excellency and I have actively and personally taken on board. By our fiscal policies, notwithstanding the inflationary prices accruing between 2013 and 2016, we have been able to keep within our budget, underutilized our budget and have not misspent or misappropriated or misused the taxpayers’ money because we are very aware that the Office of the President does not belong to my wife and I, but to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Ours is an ostensible, prudent stewardship of the public purse and some of the public service may do well in trying to template what we have done and what we shall continue to do. It may assist the citizens of this country if the independent, non-political, free and fair Press that we certainly must have in Trinidad and Tobago, peruse every line of the Auditor General’s financial report for the year 2015 to determine, with respect to some other entities, where money is missing, misspent, vouchers and cheques cannot be found and the other vast array of financial queries.
If this President was in possession of an Official Residence, I would have been well-placed to save the taxpayer even more money. While resident in that 50 year old compound called Flagstaff, my wife and I were not in possession of an area to host State, Diplomatic, National or International events between March 2013 to May 2015. During said period the Presidential Cottage and its environs were under repair and refurbishment and it was unsafe to hold any functions on the President’s Grounds given the structural concerns, with respect to, inter alia, the President’s House, which had collapsed in part. This situation has not changed and since then the Office of the President has had to go cap in hand to find places to host the aforementioned events which has resulted in great rental costs for various localities and preparation thereof. For example, the Queen’s Hall management has been kind to make available the Queen’s Hall free of charge to hold such events when Queen’s Hall is available and this is becoming a challenge because of the commercial and artistic demands of its stakeholders. For example, hosting the National Awards at Queen’s Hall and swearing-in a new Government can easily cost- in the context of putting down infrastructure and other pertinent facilities- on average, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Because of the Office of the President’s historical, institutional marginalisation, we have a depleted fleet of vehicles. Some vehicles have not been changed for 7-12 years, resulting quite often in the rental of vehicles, when they break down. All these monies for rentals for places, vehicles and equipment come out of the double-digit Presidential budget.
There has been a query in the public domain as to why the internal auditor from the Office of the President audits the Office of the President and the Integrity Commission. This unsatisfactory and burdensome arrangement for our Accounting Unit is the result of a Cabinet Minute No. 1114 dated 26 May 1988, which states that accounting services for the Secretariat of the Integrity Commission be provided by the Accounting Unit of the Office of the President. The Accounting Unit of the Office of the President has been extremely stretched and there has been institutional indifference to the overburdened Accounting Unit. It is simply unfair for a small accounting unit to shoulder the burden of the accounting of the Integrity Commission, an organisation larger in numbers than the Office of the President. I have raised this concern with the relevant authorities.
The composition of staff in the Integrity Commission has increased to over 60 persons in the last few years, much larger than the Presidential staff. Our Accounting Staff comprises five (5) persons – one Accountant 1, one Auditing Assistant, one Accounting Assistant, one Clerk 1 and one Clerk 11. The Presidential Accounting and Auditing staff must check all accounting and auditing work for the Integrity Commission and print their cheques for salaries, for contract cheques and post-dated cheques. This has presented undue and unwholesome burden on our accounting staff and by extension, the accounting and auditing system. When the financial year is coming to a close, the Auditing Unit of the Office of the President, works until midnight, for almost every night of that week prior. We simply have inadequate staff to properly manage the required financial and auditing checks and balances as efficiently as we would like to. The type of accounting oversight that the Accounting Unit wishes to engage cannot be undertaken comprehensively and professionally with this very small complement of staff.
In 2012, the Office of the President approached the Comptroller of Accounts recommending the removal of the Integrity Commission Accounting and Auditing functions since their staff had expanded much more than the staff in the Office of the President, placing undue strain on the capacity of the Accounting staff to address its primary accounting responsibilities to the Office of the President. The Comptroller of Accounts was indifferent to our inadequate accounting staff and moreso, the Constitutional independence of the Integrity Commission. The Comptroller of Accounts, after examining our accounting structure together with the Public Management Consulting Division (PMCD) concluded that this Office should continue the accounting and auditing work for the Integrity Commission. The Office of the President reiterates that the Constitutional remit and mandate of the Integrity Commission implicitly require full independent accounting and auditing autonomy.
- HOUSING ALLOWANCE:
The public may be asking what really is an Official Residence for the President- any President- of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago? In my humble view, a Senior Attorney, Gregory Delzin, in the Guardian newspaper of Tuesday, 11th November 2014, outlined, in real terms, what constitutes the suitable alternative accommodation equivalent to the Official Residence of the President, when the President’s House is not available:
“…the situation would demand that one asks several questions, such as whether the President could hold various types of functions at Flagstaff as he would have at President’s House. Can he host world leaders there? Can he have state banquets there? Can he carry out functions of his Office there that President’s House would demand (apart from administrative issues)? Can he hold cocktail parties or receptions at Flagstaff or host scholarship winners.
The allowance is not the President’s call. It is the terms and conditions contained in the SRC report as laid in Parliament and that informs/guides the Chief Personnel Officer as to what the office holder is entitled to or not.”
On election to the Office of the President, Senior Superintendent Gary Gould, Head of Special Branch, advised me that he had some security concerns with my continuing to live in my rented apartment in a cul-de-sac in Flagstaff- where I lived for some 15 years prior- whilst awaiting the repair and refurbishment of the President’s Cottage. It was common knowledge that the Official Residence, the President’s House had essentially collapsed and was uninhabitable. The Special Branch is responsible for the close body protection of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and his family, among many other Officials.
Senior Superintendent Gould stated in so many words that persons had been robbed, shot and murdered on Maraval Road right outside the walls of Flagstaff that surrounded the said cul-de-sac, and this posed a security concern for Special Branch. Senior Superintendent Gould suggested that my family and I- my wife, my then 10 year old daughter and then 12 year old son- occupy a more secure single townhouse that was occupied by the former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Gibbs. We were informed by the relevant authorities that it would take 3-4 months to refurbish the President’s Cottage. We had expressed the desire to remain in our rented apartment with larger rooms but the security concerns expressed by Senior Superintendent Gould and the potential inconvenience to our neighbours prevailed and it resulted in my family moving to the townhouse formerly occupied by former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Gibbs. We ended up staying in that townhouse from March 2013 to the end of May 2015. The 3-4 months ballooned into 2 years and 2 months.
We were told that the Presidential Cottage was in need of extensive repair and refurbishment due to institutional neglect that seemingly, the 4th President, Professor Richards, had no control over. The refurbishment of the pool at the President’s Cottage created a peculiar problem. The pool had previously been filled with sand and tiled over. I was informed that when the area was unearthed, the pipes of the pool had rusted terribly, to the extent that it required major works.
We were in a dilemma of sorts. We were informed that to provide alternative suitable housing in keeping with the Salaries Review Commission’s firm recommendation, would result in a monthly rental of $300,000.00 for the President, his family, household staff, Special Branch and Aide-de-Camp. During the tenure of that phenomenal world leader, His Excellency A.N.R. Robinson, former President of Trinidad and Tobago, his Aide-de-Camp lived close-by to effectively engage his functions.
The Salaries Reviews Commission Report, by way of the Minister of Finance and the Economy Circular No. 2 of 2014, which deals with the remuneration arrangement for the President of Trinidad and Tobago, is a public document and can be accessed by anyone. That Report states as follows:
“REMUNERATION ARRANGEMENTS FOR HOLDERS OF PUBLIC OFFICES WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF THE SALARIES REVIEW COMMISSION
Appendix – pg. 5 / Section on Housing for the President
Official residences, fully furnished and maintained by the State with the necessary complement of household staff.”
Yes, official residences- plural- and yet, no one spoke about that. The Report continued:
“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.”
What is apparent and what has been foisted on the population is that if the President is given a furnished State house, he cannot be given a housing allowance. This interpretation is one that correctly obtains in the general public service. However, it is totally different as it relates to the President. If the official residence is not available, the State must find alternative accommodation that must be on par with the Official Residence, which is the President’s House. Once that cannot be provided, the Salaries Review Commission, and not the President, mandates that the President be paid the said monthly allowance.
Bearing that in mind, an Interdisciplinary Design Consulting and Advisory Firm was commissioned to give an assessment of the suitability of the Flagstaff Residence as an alternative suitable accommodation for a President. The Firm’s professional report found it substandard and recommended that an appropriate home of the required ambassadorial quality will result in the taxpayer paying US$17,000.00 a month. This does not take into consideration the fully furnished, official residences that auxiliary and household staff required. Given the exorbitant cost that the intended rentals, to accommodate my family and Presidential staff, would pose for the taxpayers, we simply decided to ride it out and stay at Flagstaff. Our humility became our burden.
Whenever it rained, the drawing room was flooded, the dining room leaked, there were leaks in the 15×15 master bedroom, for over a year, there was no generator so that when electricity went, we used candles until I personally bought emergency lights out of pocket; the water tanks and pump did not properly function, so I bought a 1000 gallon water tank, again out of pocket; the bathroom pipes burst about 8 times flooding the master bedroom and finally, the entire kitchen flooring collapsed and we simply, put a piece of hard carpet over it because the authorities suggested that it will take 3 weeks to repair the floor because the tiles had become wobbly and unstable. It was suggested that my family and I stay at Hyatt Hotel for the 3 weeks. We never took up that offer because it was simply going to be too expensive, given the fact that Special Branch and Presidential Staff would have to be put up also. We were trying our best to resolve things quietly because we never felt that the Office of the President should be the subject of public ridicule. It turned out that we were attacked, pillared and lied upon.
The entire Professional Report of the Consultant Firm was made available to the Auditor General’s Department to be part of its records and legacy.
The Chairman and Members of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), through its Secretary, the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), decided in the context of what can only be deemed deplorable conditions that the President and his family were living in, to provide the housing allowance. The Salaries Review Commission that granted the housing allowance was not appointed by His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC. This Salaries Review Commission, at the time of approval, was appointed by His Excellency the fourth President Professor George Maxwell Richards ORTT. Any allegation of my complicity as it relates to the approval of the housing allowance is totally without merit and defamatory.
In March 2013, the State provided me and my family with family semi-furnished living quarters at Flagstaff Villas, Long Circular, St. James. It was highly unsuitable as an official residence for a Head of State and the First family. The Chief Personnel Officer also came to that incontrovertible conclusion. By Presidential standards, it fell woefully short in furnishings and was not either fully furnished. Maintenance by the State was poor and highly unsatisfactory. I attempted to fill the aforementioned lacuna by using my personal furnishing in the said house. It leaked all over to the extent when it rained, the living room, small study and master bedroom were flooded. I lost books, papers and other documents when water leaked into my study. I had to repair the leaks at my personal, out of pocket expense. The dining room leaked and the flooring in the kitchen eventually collapsed as a result of this unsatisfactory state of affairs. All the Household staff can attest to the veracity of same.
The living room at the Flagstaff residence was approximately 15ft x 16ft and the kitchen was 10ft x 12ft. There was also a lack of storage space, a lack of basic kitchen equipment and appliances, no guest rooms, no recreation or exercise room or facilities. At every given moment, there would normally be 5-6 persons in the house. I could not entertain dignitaries for the 2 years plus that I stayed in Flagstaff. I could not host any official functions there because of the lack of space.
Because of the lack of storage space at Flagstaff residence, I must emphasise that I was forced to continue renting my previous apartment, at my own costs, in Flagstaff, both as a storage facility and as a cooking station, when the Office hosted official functions at rented localities. . I was forced to store government property and personal property at the rented place, since Knowsley was no longer available and the government Flagstaff House had no storage space. It is documented that I paid $12,000.00 a month, out of pocket, every month, for the 2 years I lived in Flagstaff, for utilities incurred in hosting State and other functions. This amounted to $300,000.00 that I paid, out of pocket, over those 2 years. I never asked for reimbursement for that rental or for the cost of utilities incurred during that period. My Standing Order in the bank can attest to this.
Additionally, all the cooking for State functions were, in the main, done at His Excellency’s personal rented apartment, at great personal expense. We were never compensated for monies expended for State storage and functions and we never applied for any compensation. The entire Household staff can attest to the unsatisfactory conditions that Their Excellencies experienced at the Flagstaff residence. The professional evaluation and Report concerning the unsuitability of the premises was commissioned and forms part of the response for the edification and perusal of the Auditor General.
Using the President’s Official Residence- the Great House- as the standard, the Flagstaff residence was not, and cannot, be considered “suitable alternative accommodation”. I did not make the decision nor did I coerce, suggest, authorise or impose that decision of the SRC. It was made by an independent SRC, together with its Secretary, who by letter dated 7 July 2013, informed me that I would receive the allowance during that period I occupied such temporary accommodation.
My family and I finally moved into the Presidential Cottage at the end of May 2015, even though the “Cottage” is not the Official Residence of the President, but rather the President’s House. The Cottage is to accommodate the President’s guests and visiting dignitaries.
I had mentioned this in the public domain that I no longer receive the housing allowance, but the criticisms continued and no one corrected it.
On moving into the Presidential Cottage on 31 May 2015, I immediately instructed the Accounting Department to stop payment of said housing allowance, effective May 31, 2015.
- MEETING WITH THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY:
On 5 September 2016, I met with the Honourable Minister of National Security, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Acting Commissioner of Police. Present at that said meeting were also my Aide-de-Camp and my Senior Legal Officer. The meeting was conducted with the stated support of the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley. I wish to emphatically state that I have always been compliant with the doctrine of separation of powers and am more than aware of my constitutional remit with respect to other branches of the executive, and indeed, of the government. It is exactly for that reason that on THREE (3) occasions beforehand, I indicated to the Honourable Prime Minister, my intention to hold a meeting with the Minister of National Security, in the interests of offering suggestions on certain pertinent issues in this Republic and he supported it. At the onset of the meeting, I mentioned the Prime Minister’s support for the said meeting and this was confirmed by those present.
I wish to make it clear now, as I did then at the said meeting, that I did not impose myself or my views on those great men present at the meeting nor on the Honourable Prime Minister nor did I unlawfully interfere with the exercise of the functions of the Prime Minister and/or the members of the Cabinet. I did not, as reported, summon the said meeting and anyone who knows me- who genuinely knows me- knows that I do not engage in that leadership style. I am about service leadership. There were no demands made of the Honourable Minister of National Security with respect to time; we worked around his time. The matters discussed with those present at the meeting, with the stated support of the Prime Minister, were merely suggestions and possible solutions that were offered for consideration, in my capacity as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
It is to be noted that much has been said about the alleged constitutional impropriety of my holding such a meeting, without emphasis to the PURPOSE of the said meeting. And yes, while I am a great respecter of the doctrine of separation of powers, I am also reminded of Montesquieu’s take on the Westminster form of governance not only on the separation of powers but as well, in light of the ‘interdependence of institutions’. I am a citizen of this country and like every other citizen of this Republic, I can legitimately offer suggestions, within my constitutional remit, to alleviate certain issues that plague us as a Nation.
As President of this Republic, I acted within the remit of the Constitution, by virtue of sections 74, 80 and 81; this meeting was conducted with reference to the Honourable Prime Minister because I had his support to hold the meeting; I even set out the contents and discussions of the said meeting for the Honourable Prime Minister by way of a 10 page private and confidential missive with appended documents, which was delivered the day following the meeting.
This entire meeting was conducted in the strictest confidentiality and with the highest respect and regard for the institutions of government. I, nor the Office of the President, disclosed to anyone, especially the Media, the contents of that meeting in keeping with my strict adherence to Presidential confidentiality and protocol. The only persons who are aware of the contents of that meeting were those present and Dr. Keith C. Rowley, the Honourable Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. I am therefore extremely concerned that the missive which was sent to the Honourable Prime Minister, under strictest and private confidentiality, had found itself in the hands of the Press. I am a stickler for confidentiality. I am even more taken aback to have received a letter from the Honourable Prime Minister, which calls into question the constitutional propriety of my holding the said meeting, especially since I received the support of the Honourable Prime Minister to conduct the said meeting. Perhaps the explanation for the oversight may well be found in the fact that the Honourable Prime Minister has a vast portfolio of responsibilities and a hectic schedule, and quite possibly, may have forgotten our discussions and the stated support, which he gave to me, to hold the said meeting. When in fact, the Prime Minister and I do meet, our discussions are very extensive, very comprehensive, very deep. I am not in the business of shaking hands and engaging in mere courtesies, but am rather engage in the business of holding hands, with a view to creating a greater vision for our society.
The Legal Opinion, which was provided to the Honourable Prime Minister in respect of the said meeting, answered inter alia, the question, “whether it was constitutionally proper for the President to arrange a meeting with a member of the Cabinet without reference to the Prime Minister or at all.” I clarify, for the public benefit, that the meeting was conducted WITH REFERENCE TO THE PRIME MINISTER, that is, that the stated support was given to me by the Honourable Prime Minister, on THREE (3) separate occasions, to go ahead with the meeting.
I also clarify, for the public benefit, that I acted within my constitutional remit in holding the meeting, reference having been made to the Honourable Prime Minister; there is nothing in the Constitution or otherwise that prohibits such a meeting; the contents and discussions of the said meeting shall remain confidential, on the part of the Office of the President, and shall remain protected information, having regard to its intended purpose in the first place and the integrity with which it was shared with those present, indeed with the support of the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley.
Much has been stated about the execution of my duties and responsibilities as President and especially about the Auditor General’s Report, but in my humble Opinion, not enough. I can assure if you read every single line in the Auditors report for the financial year 2015, it will be both an experience and a revelation. I’m all for transparency, accountability and integrity but it cannot be selective; it cannot be convenient; it cannot be transient; and it cannot be misdirected.
I have always sought to serve in this high office in dignified and uplifting ways, which can help exalt the Nation. If I have stumbled in any way- and yes, the runner sometimes stumbles on that road of life- I ask your forgiveness and where possible, your good advice. If I have sometimes come across as too passionate, it is because I cannot be deadpan on suggesting ways and means that we can become a better nation. I am passionate about this country and I make no apology about it, because we are a great Nation.
I thank you.Share