Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar can take her sister Vidwatie Newton on any overseas trip she wishes at State expense as the Integrity Commission has found there was no breach of the Public Life Act when the PM did so in the past.
By letter dated September 12, the Integrity Commission wrote to Reynold Cooper, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, stating that investigations found there was no wrongdoing.
The letter, which was signed by the Commission's registrar, Martin Farrell, was released by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) yesterday.
It stated: "Pursuant to Section 33 of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01, 'the Act', the Integrity Commission has conducted an investigation into an alleged breach of the Act, to wit: Ms Vidwatie Newton, a non-employee of the State, travels on overseas trips which were financed by the Office of the Prime Minister.
"Kindly be advised that the Commission has found no breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01 by anyone at the Office of the Prime Minister."
Contacted yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said if this was the decision of the Integrity Commission, "I have no additional basis to comment on the Commission's position".
In April, the Opposition had written to the Integrity Commission requesting an investigation into whether there was a breach in the Integrity in Public Life Act with the Prime Minister utilising State funds for Newton to accompany her on overseas trips.
This was done after it was disclosed in Parliament, in response to a question from the Opposition, that some $868,268.11 was spent on Newton's travel and other associated costs between June 1, 2010 and March 31, 2012.
In March, in response to another question from Opposition MP Donna Cox, Leader of Government Business Roodal Moonilal disclosed that some $4.6 million was spent for the Prime Minister and her official delegation to go to India in January this year.
Newton's total expenditure for the India trip was $233,600.
In March, the Express had reported further that the Office of the Prime Minister spent $338,329 for Newton to accompany Persad-Bissessar to Australia from October 19 to November 6, 2011.
The figures were contained in a note prepared for the Cabinet which was obtained by the Express.
Newton, who is not officially employed by the State, was also given a per diem.
In London, from the period October 19 to 21 and again on November 3-5, she was allowed accommodation at £350 a day. Her per diem was £145 a day, totalling TT$9,422.
In Dubai from October 21-23 she was given accommodation valued at US$278 a day, which totalled US$834 (TT$5,362.62).
Her per diem was US$155 a day which totalled TT$1,993.30.
In Perth, Australia, for the period October 24 to 30, no accommodation expenses were incurred as the delegation was accommodated by the Australian government. Her per diem, however, was US$155 a day, which totalled TT$6,976.55.
In Hong Kong from October 31 to November 4, an allowance of TT$23,089.52 was paid for accommodation with a per diem of US$155 a day which totalled TT$3,986.60.
In March, when questions were raised about her sister's travels, the OPM issued a statement justifying the need for her sister to accompany her on foreign travel, saying the election of a female Prime Minister brought with it different needs.
According to the statement: "Many personal issues unique to a woman warrant the involvement of a close and trusted assistant. This, more so, on occasions of official foreign travel when the hectic schedule and frenetic pace demands the Honourable Prime Minister's undivided attention, without the distraction of critical personal care.
"Ms Vidwatie Newton was a qualified nurse with many years experience. She is responsible for the Prime Minister's diet, medication, exercise, wardrobe and other health-related and personal issues. It is quite reasonable for the Honourable Prime Minister to trust and rely upon her sister for this level of personal care and attention. It should be noted as well that this support is provided on a continuous basis literally, as and when required."
The OPM also said the Prime Minister had the option of formally employing her sister as a member of her personal staff, but "she refused to do so to avoid any allegations of nepotism, in consequence of which, Ms Newton receives no salary from the State. Moreover, such employment would essentially be for fixed hours and a fixed work week, in keeping with industrial relations practice".