Saturday, January 20, 2018

Committee to examine financial management of Office of President

Presidential wine

Financial management at the Office of the President will come under scrutiny on Thursday when the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meets to examine expenditure at the President's Office.

The meeting will take place at 2 p.m. in the J Hamilton Maurice Room, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

The committee will examine the Office of the President's expenditure and internal controls for inventory control, internal audit, accountability and transparency as well as the purchase of minor equipment, goods and services.

The PAAC is a new committee which has examined a number of public sector agencies. The committee is authorised to consider expenditure as it occurs, unlike the Public Accounts Committee which considers the Auditor General's report.

Questions about the financial management at the Office of the President emerged in the 2015 Auditor General's report, which had found 85 instances of incorrect classification of expenditure, totalling $2,685.236.90, in contravention of Financial Regulation 65 which stipulates that a vote may not be applied for the purpose for which it was not intended. There were other issues relating to inventory control and pension and leave records.

The President has been in the news with the purchase of $1.4 million in wine from an Italian vineyard, which was bottled as “Presidential wine” bearing the presidential crest, and also incorporated the Trinidad and Tobago Coat of Arms embossed on the bottle.

Another source of controversy has been the President's receipt of a $28,000 a month housing allowance between August 2013 and May 2015.

President Anthony Carmona held a news conference last November to address the issue of the wine and his housing allowance, which he said was approved by the Salaries Review Commission (SRC).

However, since then, the matter of the housing allowance has resurfaced because the SRC has reportedly distanced itself from the decision to approve the housing allowance.

The PAAC is chaired by House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and its members are Government ministers Maxie Cuffie, Clarence Rambharat and Ayanna Webster-Roy; MPs Nicole Olivierre and Lackram Bodoe; and senators Wade Mark, Dhanayshar Mahabir and Daniel Dookie.