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OK for Consul General to hire mother-in-law

Public Service head Reynold Cooper:

By Irene Medina Associate Editor

SOME staffers at the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate in Miami, Florida, USA, are accusing Consul General Dr Anil Ramnanan of nepotism in the hiring of his mother-in-law, Sandra Sookdeo, as a maid at his official residence.

But Reynold Cooper, head of the Public Service and Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister, said Ramnanan has breached no law.

"The Public Service Regulations do not speak to the hiring of family members or relatives. From my information, the Consul General is free to hire.

"It has more to do with morals and ethics. It is not about legal or illegal," Cooper added.

Ramnanan has defended his decision to hire his mother-in-law to housekeep on the grounds that he wanted to maintain family relations between his two young children and their grandmother.

"With regard to hiring my mother-in-law as a maid, the Foreign Service Regulations makes explicit provision for the employment of two domestic staff at the residence of the Consul General (for ALL Heads of Missions).

"These persons are vetted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy in Washington so that they may obtain a special visa 'domestic worker'. Mrs Sookdeo was issued a valid visa for a two-year period," he said.

When he was appointed Consul General, Ramnanan said he was expected to relocate in Miami with his family, including his children, who were four and six years old at that time.

"Both these children grew up with their grandmother and as such was the logical choice," he said.

Ramnanan explained that it is also at the sole discretion of the Consul General/Head of Missions to choose who these employees should be.

According to her contract, dated February 10, 2011, Sookdeo is expected to work 40 hours a week, and is paid US$17.50 an hour, amounting to US$1,400 a fortnight.

Her tickets to and from Miami at the end of the contract are being paid for by the State.

Sookeo, originally from Wellington Road, Debe, is allowed 21 days' annual vacation and 14 days' sick leave, but Immigration sources claim she may have utilised more than her alloted days since she has travelled to Trinidad six times between June 2011 and October 2012.

But Ramnanan has dismissed this as totally "false, inaccurate and unfortunate".

He said the record shows she is well within her 42 working days' vacation and 28 days' sick leave.

Ramnanan is not the first to hire a relative under the State employ.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar hired her sister Vidwatie Newton as a travel companion at a cost of $868,268.11 to the State, during the period June 1, 2010 and March 31, 2012.

Following concerns by the Opposition PNM and other sectors, the Integrity Commission investigated and in September 2012 ruled that the PM can take her sister on any overseas trip she wishes, at the State's expense, since there was no breach of the Public Life Act.

According to PS Cooper: "When former prime minister Patrick Manning appointed his wife Hazel, a Minister of Education, some people did not think it was the right thing to do, but legally he had done nothing wrong."

In this instance, he said, once the employee has a valid work permit and valid visa and has violated no US immigration laws then there was no legal issue.

Ramnanan has also categorically denied that another domestic employee at his home, who is being paid US$1,400 a fortnight to prepare, cook and serve food at his home, was, in fact, working at a hospital.

He admitted that the worker "volunteers at a hospital in Broward, outside of her working hours, for no remuneration. All her contact information and contractual obligations were submitted to the Chancery in May of this year, which she has met".

He said he wanted to set the record straight and correct all erroneous information.

For his part, Dr Neil Parsan, T&T Ambassador to the United States, said the Consul General has the discretion to hire a fixed number of staff for the residence such as a cook, (and) a housekeeper that "he is comfortable with".

He said it was up to Ramnanan to hire individual(s) that he deems trustworthy and in whom he had confidence.

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