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Pure mischief! That is how Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Darryl Smith, has described queries to his trip with a delegation of officials to Tobago last weekend.
The issue arose on Tuesday after information leaked on social media revealed that a $92,000 bill had been racked up by a 12-member team of Ministry and Sports Company officials for a stay at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort.
The delegation, according to a blog, was on the island to attend the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Sports Awards on Saturday.
However, the blog, posted by well-known journalist, Sharmain Baboolal, along with supporting documents, claimed only nine of the 12 officials were initially invited by the THA. Three more people, the Minister’s personal assistant, Cindy Cupid, communications officer, Kate Balthazar, and Melissa Assam, executive assistant to Permanent Secretary, Natasha Barrow, were added after a special request.
The hotel bill for 12 rooms for a three-night stay amounted to $77,910.43.
A further $10,400 was for the rental of four cars while $3,600 represented their airfare, bringing the overall cost to $91,910.43.
Smith said “Usually, when the Minister rolls, his personal assistant, who is Cindy Cupid, who wouldn’t be invited, attends with the Minister and that is a normal thing.
“Every where I go I take one of my assistants with me. I followed protocol, left (Trinidad) the same day of the awards, went to the awards, met with Mr Jomo Pitt (THA Secretary of Sport) on Sunday and left the Monday and went straight to the office. I could account for me and my assistant.”
Smith added: “The other persons, you would have to talk with the PS. I think the two people’s names I’m seeing is the permanent secretary’s assistant, who wouldn’t be invited and also communications.”
However, he said it was clear some people were up to mischief by releasing the information online.
The Minister added, “But of course the media and people would try and twist it politicize it. These people, all of them work at the ministry. I met all these people there, they are not my friends or anything like that so I don’t know what they trying to twist and say. But they were all invited and my request was just for my assistant, which is a normal thing.”
Along with Smith and Barrow, the initially invited guests were Director of Sport Patrice Charles, Deputy Director Darron Charles, Ronson Hackshaw, senior legal officer Tyrone Marcus, Director of Youth Affairs Earland Kent, Youth Officer III Emmanuel Charles and adviser to the Minster, Garvin Warwick.
Smith justified the size of the contingent, saying: “They (THA) would have invited a number of people from the Ministry and Sports Company and what happened is there were a number of other events there as well (in Tobago).
There was a marathon that the Sports Company and some other officials went to.
Smith added, “The Permanent Secretary and the rest of the team would have met and done a site visit at the Dwight Yorke Stadium. So it was not just the awards, it was a couple of meetings and different things. We did infrastructural meetings, we did youth meetings, we did sport meetings and we went to the awards.
“What we did was take the opportunity this weekend to meet with everyone instead of going back and forth. This is just a storm in a teacup which someone is trying to politicize.”
Addressing the issue of the cost of the trip meanwhile, Smith said it was normal for the ministry to foot its own bill although the officials made the trip on the invitation of the THA.
He reasoned that having used Caribbean Airlines and stayed at the Magdalena Grand, which are government-owned entities, it meant what ever was spent remained in Government coffers.
However, he distanced himself from the hotel arrangements made on his behalf.
“Nothing was requested by me. If I get invited to Tobago I notify the ministry and they make arrangements. I don’t know if its mandatory that the hotel itself issues a special room for ministers but there was no request from me.”