Twenty foreign musicians were hired at exorbitant salaries such as $90,000 a month by the last Government to play for the Prime Ministerial commissioned National Orchestra and Divine Echoes.
Minister of Tertiary Education Fazal Karim gave some of the figures of the foreign musicians who had been sourced for former prime minister Patrick Manning by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in his contribution to the budget debate in the Senate yesterday.
Karim said if music was the love of Manning, the mantra was to find the musicians and pay regardless of costs.
"Section leader viola: monthly remuneration- $80,920; Section Leader trombone— $74,570 per month; Professor of music and section leader —$78,270 per month; Section leader double bass— $66,920 per month ; Senior artiste in residence "whatever that is"— $72,820 per month; another senior artiste in residence and associate professor— $82,560 per month; concert master for the band— $90,570 per month; professor of music Divine Echoes and principal trumpet, he getting $80,650 a month. Per month!" Karim declared.
"Eight thousand pounds!" retorted PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds.
"You coulda hire Roy Cape!" one Government MP shouted. He said a consultant was engaged via UTT to pull the musicians together and a vote of money put aside in the Prime Minister's office to support these salaries.
Karim also talked about the "slush fund" for scholarships. He said there were people from UTT who between 2006 and April 2010 received tuition fees, living expenses and airfare to the tune of $1.7 million. "In fact I can tell you about three students, non-UTT personnel : PhD mechanical engineering at Imperial College UK since September 2006 — $1.244 million: PhD engineering at Cambridge UK from April 2006 — $1.565 million; another one: PhD in engineering at Cambridge — $1.4 million," he said.
On the issue of GATE, he said Government was also determined that abuses must be eliminated. He said Government had increased the amount of recovered money from underperforming students over the last three years. In 2010 it recovered $3.2 million, in 2011, $3.8 million and in 2012, $12.4 million.
The Minister noted that $3.9 billion of taxpayers' money had been spent on the programme since its inception in 2004. He said there had been an increasing number of claims from institutions under GATE but he said institutions were doubling their fees, and over-invoicing the Government because no standard existed for the determination of tuition fees.